The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written: volume 7 (30 short stories)
344 pages
English

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The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written: volume 7 (30 short stories)

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344 pages
English

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus

Description

If you were looking for the Holy Bible of the horror anthologies, consider yourself lucky, because you just found it!
Cosmic horror, supernatural events, ghost stories, weird fiction, mystical fantasies, occult narratives, this book plunges you into dark domains and brings you face to face with surreal monstrosities.
This seventh volume of “The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written” features 30 stories by an all-star cast, including Sheridan Le Fanu, M. R. James, Wilkie Collins, Ambrose Bierce, Richard Connell, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Machen, among many others!

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Publié par
Date de parution 22 février 2018
Nombre de lectures 19
EAN13 9789897784347
Langue English

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THE GREATEST GHOST AND HORROR STORIES EVER WRITTEN
||| volume 7 |||
2018 © Dark Chaos
 
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher.
 
Table of Contents
 
 
 
The Black Coat
The Dead Man of Varley Grange
The Inn
Lost Hearts
The Middle Bedroom
Mad Monkton
Markheim
Midnight Express
Moonlight Sonata
The Moonlit Road
The Most Dangerous Game
MS. Found in a Bottle
The Mystery of the Semi-Detached
A Night in Malnéant
The Novel of the Black Seal
Oke of Okehurst
Revenge
The Shadow Out of Time
The Silver Hatchet
They
Three Skeleton Key
Touch and Go
The Valley of Spiders
W. S.
Wandering Willie’s Tale
The Well
Who Knows?
The Wind in the Portico
Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men
The Music on the Hill
 
The Black Coat
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
 
 
 
I was born into a rich and important family in Tyrone, Ireland. I was the younger of two daughters and we were the only children. My sister was six years older than me, we didn’t play much together when I was young and I was only twelve years old when she got married.
I remember the day of her wedding well. Many people came, all of them laughing, singing and happy. But I felt sad when my sister left with her new husband, Mr. Carew.
She was always very nice to me, nicer than my mother. And so I cried when she went away to her new home in Dublin. My mother and father didn’t love me — they wanted son and were not interested in me.
About a year after my sister got married, a letter arrived from Mr. Carew. He said that my sister was ill and that she wanted to come home to Tyrone and stay with us, to be with her family. I was sad that she was ill but also very happy about her visit.
‘They’re leaving Dublin on Sunday,’ my father told me, ‘and they’re arriving here on Tuesday evening.’
Tuesday came, and it was a very long day. Hour after hour came and went, and I listened all the time for my sister and her husband. Now the sky was dark and soon it was midnight, but I couldn’t sleep. I listened and waited. Suddenly, at about one o’clock in the morning, I heard a noise far away. I ran out of my bedroom and down to the living-room.
‘They’re here! They’re here!’ I called to my father, and we quickly opened the front door to see better. We waited there for a few minutes and we heard the noise again, somebody crying far away in the night. But we saw nothing. There were no lights and no people there. We went outside, waiting to say hello and to help my sister with her bags. But nobody was there; nobody came. I looked at my father and he looked at me. We didn’t understand.
‘I know I heard a noise,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘I heard it too; father, but where are they?’
We went back into the house without another word. We were suddenly afraid.
The next day a man arrived and told us that my sister was dead. On Sunday she felt very ill, on Monday she was worse and on Tuesday, at about one o’clock in the morning, she died... at the same time that we were outside the house, in the night, waiting for her.
I never forgot that night. For the next two years I was very sad- you could say that I stopped living. I didn’t want to do anything or speak to anyone. Mr. Carew soon married another young woman in Dublin and I felt angry that he forgot my sister so quickly.
I was now the only child of a rich and important family, so before I was fourteen years old men started to visit our home. They wanted to meet me and, perhaps, to marry me. But I didn’t like any of these men and I thought I was too young to be married.
When I was sixteen my mother took me to Dublin.
‘Dublin is a big city,’ she said. ‘We’re going to meet richer and more interesting men than the ones back home in Tyrone. We can easily find you a good husband in Dublin.’
In Dublin I began to be happier. I met a lot of friendly people and I went dancing every evening. A lot of young men came to speak to me and asked me to dance; I liked talking to them. I started to live and laugh again and I didn’t think about my dead sister all the time.
But my mother was not so happy. She wanted me to find a husband quickly. One night before I went to bed she came into my room and said, ‘Do you know Lord Glen fallen?’
‘Oh yes,’ I answered. ‘He‘s that ugly old man from Cahergillagh.’
‘He’s not ugly and he’s not old, Fanny,’ my mother said quickly. ‘He’s from a very rich and important family, too, and...he wants to marry you. He loves you.’
‘Loves me? Wants to marry me? But he’s making a mistake, mother!’ I said. ‘I don’t love him. I can’t marry somebody I don’t love.’
‘Think about it, Fanny, ‘my mother answered quietly. ‘He’s a good man and he wants to marry you. You’re a very lucky young woman.’
My mother left the room and I sat quietly for a long time. Lord Glen fallen was a nice, friendly man, I thought. I didn’t love him, no, but I did like him. He always talked about interesting things. I never felt happy at home with my mother and father but I always felt better when I talked to him. The next morning when I saw my mother I said only one word:’ Yes.’
Lord Glen fallen and I got married the next spring, and two days after our wedding we said goodbye to my family and left Tyrone. Three days later we arrived in Cahergillagh and I saw my husband’s beautiful house for the first time. It was near a river and there were many trees and flowers in the garden. Birds sang in the trees and the sky was blue. I stood next to him and looked at it all and I left very, very happy.
‘Come, my love,’ said my husband. ‘You must come in and meet Martha. She cooks and cleans and knows everything about the house.’ So we went into the house and I met Martha, a friendly old woman with smiling blue eyes. She showed me round the house. Suddenly I felt excited to be there: it was a very happy place- women sang in the kitchen, men build fires in the living-room and there were dogs and cats everywhere.
‘Come with me now, madam,’ said Martha, ‘and look at your bedroom. Then we can take up your bags and you can wash before dinner. ‘I followed her and soon we arrived at a big brown door.
‘This is your room,’ she said and she opened the door. I stood and looked, suddenly cold with fear. In front of me stood something big and black; I didn’t know what it was... I thought it was an old coat, but without anybody inside it. I jumped back quickly, very afraid, and moved away from the door.
‘Is something wrong madam?’ Martha asked me.
‘Nothing. Perhaps it’s nothing,’ I answered quickly. ‘But I thought I saw something in there. I thought I saw a big, black coat there when you opened the door.’
Martha’s face went white with fear.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked her. ‘Now you looked frightened.’
‘Something bad is going to happen,’ she said. ‘When someone sees the black coat in this house, we know that something bad is going to happen soon to Glen fallen family. I saw the black coat when I was a child and the next morning old Lord Gela fallen died. Something bad is going to happen now, madam... I know it.’
We went down to have dinner. I felt unhappy and afraid, but I didn’t say anything to my husband about the black coat. I wanted to forget about it and be happy again. The next day Lord Glen fallen and I went for a walk together to look round the house and gardens because I wanted to know my home better.
‘I like this house and all the people here,’ I said. ‘And I’m happy to be here with you. It’s much better than Tyrone.’ My husband was very quiet for a long time. He walked with his head down, thinking. Then, suddenly, he turned to me, took my hand and said,’ Fanny, listen to me. Listen carefully. There’s something I must ask you. Please, only go into the rooms in the front of the house. Never go into the rooms at the back of the building or into the little garden by the back door. Never. Do you understand me, Fanny?’ His face was white and unhappy.
I understood his words, but I didn’t understand why he was a suddenly different man. Here at Cahergillagh he never smiled or laughed any more. Perhaps the back of the house was dangerous, I thought. But he didn’t want to talk about it any more. We went back to the house without speaking and again I tried to forget his words and to be as happy as I was before.
It was about a month later that I met the other woman for the first time. One day I wanted to go for a walk in the gardens- it was a beautiful day and I ran up to my room after lunch to get my hat and coat. But when I opened the door of my room, there was a woman sitting near the fire. She was about forty years old and she wore a black coat. Her face was white and when I looked closely I saw that her eyes were white too-she was blind.
‘Madam,’ I said,’ this is my room. There is a mistake.’ ‘Your room!’ she answered. ‘A mistake? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s a mistake. Where is Lord Glen fallen?’
‘Down in the living-room,’ I said. ‘But who are you and why are you here in my room?’
‘Tell Lord Glen fallen that I want him,’ was all she said.
‘I must tell you that I’m Lady Glen fallen and I want you to leave my room now,’ I said.
‘Lady Glen fallen? You are not, you are not!’ she cried and hit my face very hard.
I cried out for help and soon Lord Glen fallen arrived. I ran out of the room as he ran in, and I waited outside to listen at the door. I did not hear every word but I knew that Lord Glen fallen was very angry and blind woman was very unhappy. When he came out I asked him, ‘Who is that woman and why is she in my bedroom?’
But my husband didn’t answer me. Again his face was white with fear. His only words were, ‘Forgot her.’
But I did not forget her and every day it was more and more difficult to talk to my husband. He was always quiet now, always sad and afraid; he sat hours and looking into the fires with his unhappy eyes. But I didn’t know why and he didn’t want to tell me.
One morning after breakfast, Lord Glen fallen suddenly said, ‘I have the answer! We must go away to another country, to France or Spain perhaps. What do you think, Fanny?’
He didn’t wait for my answer but left the room very quickly. I sat and thought for a long time. Why must we leave Cahergillagh? I didn’t understand. And I didn’t want to go too far away from my mother and father in Tyrone. They were old now and my father was sometimes ill. They didn’t love me very much but I wanted to be near them.
I thought about it all day and I didn’t know what to say to my husband when he arrived back in the evening and came in to dinner. I said nothing. After dinner I was very tired and I went up to my bedroom early. I wanted to have a good night’s sleep and think about it all again the next day. I closed my eyes and went to sleep. But I did not sleep well because I dreamed of the black coat.
Suddenly I woke up. Everything was dark and very quiet, but somebody was at the end of my bed. There was a hand with a light, and behind the light was the blind woman. She had a knife in her other hand. I tried to get out of bed and run to the door, but she stopped me. ‘If you want to live, don’t move,’ she said. ‘Tell me one thing did Lord Glen fallen marry you?’
‘Yes, he did, ‘I answered. ‘He married me in front of a hundred people.’
‘Well that’s sad, ‘she said. ‘Because I don’t think he told you that he had a wife...me. I am his wife, not you, young woman. You must leave this house tomorrow, because if you stay in here...you see this knife? I am going to kill you with it.’ Then she left room without a sound. I didn’t sleep again that night.
When morning came I told my husband everything. ‘Who is the blind woman?’ I asked him. ‘She told me last night that she is your wife, that I’m not your wife.’
‘Did you go into the rooms at the back of the house?’ asked my husband angrily. ‘I told you that you must never go there!’
‘But I didn’t, ‘I answered. ‘I was in my bed all night. She came to me. Please tell me what is happening.’
My husband face was white again now and he didn’t speak for a long time. Then he said, ‘No, she is not my wife. You are. Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what is saying.’ And he left the room.
I ran to find Martha. I didn’t like this house any more. My husband was a difficult man and I didn’t understand him. Who was the blind woman? I wanted to know everything.
‘Don’t cry, madam,’ said Martha when I found her. ‘Sit down and listen to me. What I am going to tell you is not very nice. The blind woman, the woman in the black coat, is dead. You saw her ghost. She was married to your husband and she was Lady Glen fallen. Nobody knows how she died. Her bedroom was at the back of the house. Somebody saw your husband with a knife in his hand on the night she died. But did he kill her? Nobody knows. When we found her, the knife was on the floor next to her and her eyes... somebody cut her eyes out after she died. Perhaps he didn’t want her to see his other women... his next wife... you...’
I didn’t wait to speak to my husband again. I left that day. I was too afraid to stay another minute at Cahergillagh. I knew that blind woman was going to comeback again and kill me. I said goodbye to Martha, took my bags and told my driver to take me back to Tyron.
I am happy living here with my mother and father now. The house is quiet, I sleep well each night and they are friendlier to me than they were before. Sometimes my dead sister visits me at night, but I am never afraid. She tells me that the blind woman is trying to find me at Cahergillagh and that she wants to kill me. She is jealous of me; but she can never find me there. She must wait for the next Lady Glenfallen.
 
The Dead Man of Varley Grange
by Anonymous
 
 
 
‘Hallo, Jack! Where are you off to? Going down to the governor’s place for Christmas?’
Jack Darent, who was in my old regiment, stood drawing on his doeskin gloves upon the 23rd of December the year before last. He was equipped in a long ulster and top hat, and a hansom, already loaded with a gun-case and portmanteau, stood awaiting him. He had a tall, strong figure, a fair, fresh-looking face, and the merriest blue eyes in the world. He held a cigarette between his lips, and late as was the season of the year there was a flower in his buttonhole. When did I ever see handsome Jack Darent and he did not look well dressed and well fed and jaunty? As I ran up the steps of the Club he turned round and laughed merrily.
‘My dear fellow, do I look the sort of man to be victimized at a family Christmas meeting? Do you know the kind of business they have at home? Three maiden aunts and a bachelor uncle, my eldest brother and his insipid wife, and all my sister’s six noisy children at dinner. Church twice a day, and snapdragon between the services! No, thank you! I have a great affection for my old parents, but you don’t catch me going in for that sort of national festival!’
‘You irreverent ruffian!’ I replied, laughing. ‘Ah, if you were a married man...’
‘Ah, if I were a married man!’ replied Captain Darent with something that was almost a sigh, and then lowering his voice, he said hurriedly, ‘How is Miss Lester, Fred?’
‘My sister is quite well, thank you,’ I answered with becoming gravity; and it was not without a spice of malice that I added, ‘She has been going to a great many balls and enjoying herself very much.’
Captain Darent looked profoundly miserable.
‘I don’t see how a poor fellow in a marching regiment, a younger son too, with nothing in the future to look to, is ever to marry nowadays,’ he said almost savagely; ‘when girls, too, are used to so much luxury and extravagance that they can’t live without it. Matrimony is at a deadlock in this century, Fred, chiefly owing to the price of butcher’s meat and bonnets. In fifty years’ time it will become extinct and the country be depopulated. But I must be off, old man, or I shall miss my train.’
‘You have never told me where you are going to, Jack.’
‘Oh, I am going to stay with old Henderson, in Westernshire; he has taken a furnished house, with some first-rate pheasant shooting, for a year. There are seven of us going — all bachelors, and all kindred spirits. We shall shoot all day and smoke half the night. Think what you have lost, old fellow, by becoming a Benedick!’
‘In Westernshire, is it?’ I inquired. ‘Whereabouts is this place, and what is the name of it? For I am a Westernshire man by birth myself, and I know every place in the county.’
‘Oh, it’s a tumbledown sort of old house, I believe,’ answered Jack carelessly. ‘Gables and twisted chimneys outside, and uncomfortable spindle-legged furniture inside — you know the sort of thing; but the shooting is capital, Henderson says, and we must put up with our quarters. He has taken his French cook down, and plenty of liquor, so I’ve no doubt we shan’t starve.’
‘Well, but what is the name of it?’ I persisted, with a growing interest in the subject.
‘Let me see,’ referring to a letter he pulled out of his pocket. ‘Oh, here it is — Varley Grange.’
‘Varley Grange!’ I repeated, aghast. ‘Why, it has not been inhabited for years.’
‘I believe not,’ answered Jack unconcernedly. ‘The shooting has been let separately; but Henderson took a fancy to the house too and thought it would do for him, furniture and all, just as it is. My dear Fred, what are you looking so solemnly at me for?’
‘Jack, let me entreat of you not to go to this place,’ I said, laying my hands on his arm.
‘Not go! Why, Lester, you must be mad! Why on earth shouldn’t I go there?’
‘There are stories — uncomfortable things said of that house.’ I had not the moral courage to say, ‘It is haunted,’ and I felt myself how weak and childish was my attempt to deter him from his intended visit; only — I knew all about Varley Grange.
I think handsome Jack Darent thought privately that I was slightly out of my senses, for I am sure I looked unaccountably upset and dismayed by the mention of the name of the house that Mr. Henderson had taken.
‘I dare say it’s cold and draughty and infested with rats and mice,’ he said laughingly; ‘and I have no doubt the creature-comforts will not be equal to Queen’s Gate; but I stand pledged to go now, and I must be off this very minute, so have no time, old fellow, to inquire into the meaning of your sensational warning. Goodbye, and... and remember me to the ladies.’
He ran down the steps and jumped into the hansom.
‘Write to me if you have time!’ I cried out after him; but I don’t think he heard me in the rattle of the departing cab. He nodded and smiled at me and was swiftly whirled out of sight.
As for me, I walked slowly back to my comfortable house in Queen’s Gate. There was my wife presiding at the little five o’clock tea-table, our two fat, pink and white little children tumbling about upon the hearthrug amongst dolls and bricks, and two utterly spoilt and over-fed pugs; and my sister Bella — who, between ourselves, was the prettiest as well as dearest girl in all London — sitting on the floor in her handsome brown, velvet gown, resigning herself gracefully to be trampled upon by the dogs, and to have her hair pulled by the babies.
‘Why, Fred, you look as if you had heard bad news,’ said my wife, looking up anxiously as I entered.
‘I don’t know that I have heard of anything very bad; I have just seen Jack Darent off for Christmas,’ I said, turning instinctively towards my sister. He was a poor man and a younger son, and of course a very bad match for the beautiful Miss Lester; but for all that I had an inkling that Bella was not quite indifferent to her brother’s friend.
‘Oh!’ says that hypocrite. ‘Shall I give you a cup of tea, Fred!’
It is wonderful how women can control their faces and pretend not to care a straw when they hear the name of their lover mentioned. I think Bella overdid it, she looked so supremely indifferent.
‘Where on earth do you suppose he is going to stay, Bella?’
‘Who? Oh, Captain Darent! How should I possibly know where he is going? Archie, pet, please don’t poke the doll’s head quite down Ponto’s throat; I know he will bite it off if you do.’
This last observation was addressed to my son and heir.
‘Well, I think you will be surprised when you hear: he is going to Westernshire, to stay at Varley Grange.’
‘What!’ No doubt about her interest in the subject now! Miss Lester turned as white as her collar and sprang to her feet impetuously, scattering dogs, babies and toys in all directions away from her skirts as she rose.
‘You cannot mean it, Fred! Varley Grange, why, it has not been inhabited for ten years; and the last time — Oh, do you remember those poor people who took it? What a terrible story it has!’
She shuddered.
‘Well, it is taken now,’ I said, ‘by a man I know, called Henderson — a bachelor; he has asked down a party of men for a week’s shooting, and Jack Darent is one of them.’
‘For Heaven’s sake prevent him from going!’ cried Bella, clasping her hands.
‘My dear, he is gone!’
‘Oh, then write to him — telegraph — tell him to come back!’ she urged breathlessly.
‘I am afraid it is no use,’ I said gravely. ‘He would not come back; he would not believe me; he would think I was mad.’
‘Did you tell him anything?’ she asked faintly.
‘No, I had not time. I did say a word or two, but he began to laugh.’
‘Yes, that is how it always is!’ she said distractedly. ‘People laugh and pooh-pooh the whole thing, and then they go there and see for themselves, and it is too late!’
She was so thoroughly upset that she left the room. My wife turned to me in astonishment; not being a Westernshire woman, she was not well up in the traditions of that venerable county.
‘What on earth does it all mean, Fred?’ she asked me in amazement. ‘What is the matter with Bella, and why is she so distressed that Captain Darent is going to stay at that particular house?’
‘It is said to be haunted, and...’
‘You don’t mean to say you believe in such rubbish, Fred?’ interrupted my wife sternly, with a side-glance of apprehension at our first-born, who, needless to say, stood by, all eyes and ears, drinking in every word of the conversation of his elders.
‘I never know what I believe or what I don’t believe,’ I answered gravely. ‘All I can say is that there are very singular traditions about that house, and that a great many credible witnesses have seen a very strange thing there, and that a great many disasters have happened to the persons who have seen it.’
‘What has been seen, Fred? Pray tell me the story! Wait, I think I will send the children away.’
My wife rang the bell for the nurse, and as soon as the little ones had been taken from the room she turned to me again.
‘I don’t believe in ghosts or any such rubbish one bit, but I should like to hear your story.’
‘The story is vague enough,’ I answered. ‘In the old days Varley Grange belonged to the ancient family of Varley, now completely extinct. There was, some hundred years ago, a daughter, famed for her beauty and her fascination. She wanted to marry a poor, penniless squire, who loved her devotedly. Her brother, Dennis Varley, the new owner of Varley Grange, refused his consent and shut his sister up in the nunnery that used to stand outside his park gates — there are a few ruins of it left still. The poor nun broke her vows and ran away in the night with her lover. But her brother pursued her and brought her back with him. The lover escaped, but the lord of Varley murdered his sister under his own roof, swearing that no scion of his race should live to disgrace and dishonor his ancient name.
‘Ever since that day Dennis Varley’s spirit cannot rest in its grave — he wanders about the old house at night time, and those who have seen him are numberless. Now and then the pale, shadowy form of a nun flits across the old hall, or along the gloomy passages, and when both strange shapes are seen thus together misfortune and illness, and even death, is sure to pursue the luckless man who has seen them, with remorseless cruelty.’
‘I wonder you believe in such rubbish,’ says my wife at the conclusion of my tale.
I shrug my shoulders and answer nothing, for who are so obstinate as those who persist in disbelieving everything that they cannot understand?
It was little more than a week later that, walking by myself along Pall Mall one afternoon, I suddenly came upon Jack Darent walking towards me.
‘Hallo, Jack! Back again? Why, man, how odd you look!’
There was a change in the man that I was instantly aware of. His frank, careless face looked clouded and anxious, and the merry smile was missing from his handsome countenance.
‘Come into the Club, Fred,’ he said, taking me by the arm. ‘I have something to say to you.’
He drew me into a corner of the Club smoking-room.
‘You were quite right. I wish to Heaven I had never gone to that house.’
‘You mean — have you seen anything?’ I inquired eagerly.
‘I have seen everything,’ he answered with a shudder. ‘They say one dies within a year —’
‘My dear fellow, don’t be so upset about it,’ I interrupted; I was quite distressed to see how thoroughly the man had altered.
‘Let me tell you about it, Fred.’
He drew his chair close to mine and told me his story, pretty nearly in the following words:
‘You remember the day I went down you had kept me talking at the Club door; I had a race to catch the train; however, I just did it. I found the other fellows all waiting for me. There was Charlie Wells, the two Harfords, old Colonel Riddell, who is such a crack shot, two fellows in the Guards, both pretty fair, a man called Thompson, a barrister, Henderson and myself — eight of us in all. We had a remarkably lively journey down, as you may imagine, and reached Varley Grange in the highest possible spirits. We all slept like tops that night.
The next day we were out from eleven till dusk among the coverts, and a better day’s shooting I never enjoyed in the whole course of my life, the birds literally swarmed. We bagged a hundred and thirty brace. We were all pretty well tired when we got home, and did full justice to a very good dinner and first-class Perrier-Jouet. After dinner we adjourned to the hall to smoke. This hall is quite the feature of the house. It is large and bright, paneled half-way up with somber old oak, and vaulted with heavy carved oaken rafters. At the farther end runs a gallery, into which opened the door of my bedroom, and shut off from the rest of the passages by a swing door at either end.
‘Well, all we fellows sat up there smoking and drinking brandy and soda, and jawing, you know — as men always do when they are together — about sport of all kinds, hunting and shooting and salmon-fishing; and I assure you not one of us had a thought in our heads beyond relating some wonderful incident of a long shot or big fence by which we could each cap the last speaker’s experiences. We were just, I recollect, listening to a long story of the old Colonel’s, about his experiences among bisons in Cachemire, when suddenly one of us — I can’t remember who it was — gave a sort of shout and started to his feet, pointing up to the gallery behind us. We all turned round, and there — I give you my word of honor, Lester — stood a man leaning over the rail of the gallery, staring down upon us.
‘We all saw him. Every one of us. Eight of us, remember. He stood there full ten seconds, looking down with horrible glittering eyes at us. He had a long tawny beard, and his hands, that were crossed together before him, were nothing but skin and bone. But it was his face that was so unspeakably dreadful. It was livid — the face of a dead man!’
‘How was he dressed?’
‘I could not see; he wore some kind of a black cloak over his shoulders, I think, but the lower part of his figure was hidden behind the railings. Well, we all stood perfectly speechless for, as I said, about ten seconds; and then the figure moved, backing slowly into the door of the room behind him, which stood open. It was the door of my bedroom! As soon as he had disappeared our senses seemed to return to us. There was a general rush for the staircase, and, as you may imagine, there was not a corner of the house that was left unsearched; my bedroom especially was ransacked in every part of it. But all in vain; there was not the slightest trace to be found of any living being. You may suppose that not one of us slept that night. We lighted every candle and lamp we could lay hands upon and sat up till daylight, but nothing more was seen.
The next morning, at breakfast, Henderson, who seemed very much annoyed by the whole thing, begged us not to speak of it any more. He said that he had been told, before he had taken the house, that it was supposed to be haunted; but, not being a believer in such childish follies, he had paid but little attention to the rumor. He did not, however, want it talked about, because of the servants, who would be so easily frightened. He was quite certain he said, that the figure we had seen last night must be somebody dressed up to practice a trick upon us, and he recommended us all to bring our guns down loaded after dinner, but meanwhile to forget the startling apparition as far as we could.
‘We, of course, readily agreed to do as he wished, although I do not think that one of us imagined for a moment that any amount of dressing-up would be able to simulate the awful countenance that we had all of us seen too plainly. It would have taken a Hare or an Arthur Cecil, with all the theatrical applicances known only to those two talented actors, to have ‘madeup’ the face, that was literally that of a corpse. Such a person could not be amongst us — actually in the house — without our knowledge.
‘We had another good day’s shooting, and by degrees the fresh air and exercise and the excitement of the sport obliterated the impression of what we had seen in some measure from the minds of most of us. That evening we all appeared in the hall after dinner with our loaded guns beside us; but, although we sat up till the small hours and looked frequently up at the gallery at the end of the hall, nothing at all disturbed us that night.
‘Two nights thus went by and nothing further was seen of the gentleman with the tawny beard. What with the good company, the good cheer and the pheasants, we had pretty well forgotten all about him. We were sitting as usual upon the third night, with our pipes and our cigars; a pleasant glow from the bright wood fire in the great chimney lighted up the old hall, and shed a genial warmth about us; when suddenly it seemed to me as if there came a breath of cold, chill air behind me, such as one feels when going down into some damp, cold vault or cellar.
‘A strong shiver shook me from head to foot. Before even I saw it I knew that it was there. ‘It leant over the railing of the gallery and looked down at us all just as it had done before. There was no change in the attitude, no alteration in the fixed, malignant glare in those stony, lifeless eyes; no movement in the white and bloodless features. Below, amongst the eight of us gathered there, there arose a panic of terror. Eight strong, healthy, well-educated nineteenth century Englishmen, and yet I am not ashamed to say that we were paralyzed with fear. Then one, more quickly recovering his senses than the rest, caught at his gun, that leant against the wide chimney-corner, and fired.
‘The hall was filled with smoke, but as it cleared away every one of us could see the figure of our supernatural visitant slowly backing, as he had done on the previous occasion, into the chamber behind him, with something like a sardonic smile of scornful derision upon his horrible, death-like face.
‘The next morning it is a singular and remarkable fact that four out of the eight of us received by the morning post — so they stated — letters of importance which called them up to town by the very first train! One man’s mother was ill, another had to consult his lawyer, whilst pressing engagements, to which they could assign no definite name, called away the other two.
‘There were left in the house that day but four of us — Wells, Bob Harford, our host, and myself. A sort of dogged determination not to be worsted by a scare of this kind kept us still there. The morning light brought a return of common sense and natural courage to us. We could manage to laugh over last night’s terrors whilst discussing our bacon and kidneys and hot coffee over the late breakfast in the pleasant morning-room, with the sunshine streaming cheerily in through the diamond-paned windows.
‘“It must be a delusion of our brains,” said one.
‘“Our host’s champagne,” suggested another.
‘“A well-organized hoax,” opined a third.
‘“I will tell you what we will do,” said our host. “Now that those other fellows have all gone — and I suppose we don’t any of us believe much in those elaborate family reasons which have so unaccountably summoned them away — we four will sit up regularly night after night and watch for this thing, whatever it may be. I do not believe in ghosts. However, this morning I have taken the trouble to go out before breakfast to see the Rector of the parish, an old gentleman who is well up in all the traditions of the neighborhood, and I have learnt from him the whole of the supposed story of our friend of the tawny beard, which, if you will, I will relate to you.
‘Henderson then proceeded to tell us the tradition concerning the Dennis Varley who murdered his sister, the nun — a story which I will not repeat to you, Lester, as I see you know it already. ‘The clergyman had furthermore told him that the figure of the murdered nun was also sometimes seen in the same gallery, but that this was a very rare occurrence. When both the murderer and his victim are seen together, terrible misfortunes are sure to assail the unfortunate living man who sees them; and if the nun’s face is revealed, death within the year is the doom of the ill-fated person who has seen it.
‘“Of course,” concluded our host, “I consider all these stories to be absolutely childish. At the same time I cannot help thinking that some human agency — probably a gang of thieves or housebreakers — is at work, and that we shall probably be able to unearth an organized system of villainy by which the rogues, presuming on the credulity of the persons who have inhabited the place, have been able to plant themselves securely among some secret passages and hidden rooms in the house, and have carried on their depredations undiscovered and unsuspected. Now, will all of you help me to unravel this mystery?”
‘We all promised readily to do so. It is astonishing how brave we felt at eleven o’clock in the morning; what an amount of pluck and courage each man professed himself to be endued with; how lightly we jested about the “old boy with the beard”, and what jokes we cracked about the murdered nun!
‘“She would show her face oftener if she was good-looking. No fear of her looking at Bob Harford, he was too ugly. It was Jack Darent who was the showman of the party; she’d be sure to make straight for him if she could, he was always run after by the women,” and so on, till we were all laughing loudly and heartily over our own witticisms. That was eleven o’clock in the morning.
‘At eleven o’clock at night we could have given a very different report of ourselves.
‘At eleven o’clock at night each man took up his appointed post in solemn and somewhat depressed silence.
‘The plan of our campaign had been carefully organized by our host. Each man was posted separately with about thirty yards between them, so that no optical delusion, such as an effect of firelight upon the oak paneling, nor any reflection from the circular mirror over the chimneypiece, should be able to deceive more than one of us. Our host fixed himself in the very center of the hail, facing the gallery at the end; Wells took up his position half-way up the short, straight flight of steps; Harford was at the top of the stairs upon the gallery itself I was opposite to him at the further end. In this manner, whenever the figure — ghost or burglar — should appear, it must necessarily be between two of us, and be seen from both the right and the left side. We were prepared to believe that one amongst us might be deceived by his senses or by his imagination, but it was clear that two persons could not see the same object from a different point of view and be simultaneously deluded by any effect of light or any optical hallucination.
‘Each man was provided with a loaded revolver, a brandy and soda and a sufficient stock of pipes or cigars to last him through the night. We took up our positions at eleven o’clock exactly, and waited.
‘At first we were all four very silent and, as I have said before, slightly depressed; but as the hour wore away and nothing was seen or heard we began to talk to each other. Talking, however, was rather a difficulty. To begin with, we had to shout — at least we in the gallery had to shout to Henderson, down in the hall; and though Harford and Wells could converse quite comfortably, I, not being able to see the latter at all from my end of the gallery, had to pass my remarks to him second-hand through Harford, who amused himself in mis-stating every intelligent remark that I entrusted him with; added to which natural impediments to the “flow of the soul”, the elements thought fit to create such a hullabaloo without that conversation was rendered still further a work of difficulty.
‘I never remember such a night in all my life. The rain came down in torrents; the wind howled and shrieked wildly amongst the tall chimneys and the bare elm trees without. Every now and then there was a lull, and then, again and again, a long sobbing moan came swirling round and round the house, for all the world like the cry of a human being in agony. It was a night to make one shudder, and thank Heaven for a roof over one’s head.
‘We all sat on at our separate posts hour after hour, listening to the wind and talking at intervals; but as the time wore on insensibly we became less and less talkative, and a sort of depression crept over us.
‘At last we relapsed into a profound silence; then suddenly there came upon us all that chill blast of air, like a breath from a charnel-house, that we had experienced before, and almost simultaneously a hoarse cry broke from Henderson in the body of the hall below, and from Wells half-way up the stairs. Harford and I sprang to our feet, and we too saw it.
‘The dead man was slowly coming up the stairs. He passed silently up with a sort of still, gliding motion, within a few inches of poor Wells, who shrank back, white with terror, against the wall. Henderson rushed wildly up the staircase in pursuit, whilst Harford and I, up on the gallery, fell instinctively back at his approach.
‘He passed between us. We saw the glitter of his sightless eyes — the shriveled skin upon his withered face — the mouth that fell away, like the mouth of a corpse, beneath his tawny beard. We felt the cold death-like blast that came with him, and the sickening horror of his terrible presence. Ah! can I ever forget it?’
With a strong shudder Jack Darent buried his face in his hands, and seemed too much overcome for some minutes to be able to proceed.
‘My dear fellow, are you sure?’ I said in an awe-struck whisper.
He lifted his head.
‘Forgive me, Lester; the whole business has shaken my nerves so thoroughly that I have not yet been able to get over it. But I have not yet told you the worst.’
‘Good Heavens — is there worse?’ I ejaculated.
He nodded.
‘No sooner,’ he continued, ‘had this awful creature passed us than Harford clutched at my arm and pointed to the farther end of the gallery.
‘“Look!” he cried hoarsely, “the nun!”
‘There, coming towards us from the opposite direction, was the veiled figure of a nun. ‘There were the long, flowing black and white garments — the gleam of the crucifix at her neck — the jangle of her rosary-beads from her waist; but her face was hidden. ‘A sort of desperation seized me. With a violent effort over myself I went towards this fresh apparition.
‘“It must be a hoax,” I said to myself and there was a half-formed intention in my mind of wrenching aside the flowing draperies and of seeing for myself who and what it was. I strode towards the figure — I stood — within half a yard of it. The nun raised her head slowly — and, Lester — I saw her face!’
There was a moment’s silence.
‘What was it like, Jack?’ I asked him presently. He shook his head.
‘That I can never tell to any living creature.’
‘Was it so horrible?’
He nodded assent, shuddering.
‘And what happened next?’
‘I believe I fainted. At all events I remembered nothing further. They made me go to the vicarage next day. I was so knocked over by it all — I was quite ill. I could not have stayed in the house. I stopped there all yesterday, and I got up to town this morning. I wish to Heaven I had taken your advice, old man, and had never gone to the horrible house.’
‘I wish you had, Jack,’ I answered fervently.
‘Do you know that I shall die within the year?’ he asked me presently.
I tried to pooh-pooh it.
‘My dear fellow, don’t take the thing so seriously as all that. Whatever may be the meaning of these horrible apparitions, there can be nothing but an old wives’ fable in that saying. Why on earth should you die — you of all people, a great strong fellow with a constitution of iron? You don’t look much like dying!’
‘For all that I shall die. I cannot tell you why I am so certain — but I know that it will be so,’ he answered in a low voice. ‘And some terrible misfortune will happen to Harford — the other two never saw her — it is he and I who are doomed.’
A year has passed away. Last summer fashionable society rang for a week or more with the tale of poor Bob Harford’s misfortune. The girl whom he was engaged to and to whom he was devotedly attached — young, beautiful and wealthy — ran away on the eve of her wedding-day with a drinking, swindling villain who had been turned out of ever so many clubs and tabooed for ages by every respectable man in town, and who had nothing but a handsome face and a fascinating manner to recommend him, and who by dint of these had succeeded in gaining a complete ascendancy over the fickle heart of poor Bob’s lovely fiancée. As to Harford, he sold out and went off to the backwoods of Canada, and has never been heard of since.
And what of Jack Darent? Poor, handsome Jack, with his tall figure and his bright, happy face, and the merry blue eyes that had wiled Bella Lester’s heart away! Alas! far away in Southern Africa, poor Jack Darent lies in an unknown grave — slain by a Zulu assegai on the fatal plain of Isandula! And Bella goes about clad in sable garments, heavy-eyed and stricken with sore grief. A widow in heart, if not in name.
 
The Inn
by Guy Preston
 
 
 
The life of a country doctor is apt to prove rather strenuous, particularly when his practice extends over an area of twenty square miles, and his sole vehicle happens to be a worn-out bicycle of antediluvian manufacture; consequently it was with an exclamation of annoyance that Dr. Sutton awoke, at about half past four one winter’s morning, to hear the front doorbell ringing furiously. His only servant had departed the previous day on a long-promised visit to her mother in Keswick, and as he was a bachelor he was, of course, alone in the house.
“Let them ring, confound them,” he muttered to himself, “disturbing a hard-working body at this un-godly hour! And,” he added, “after all the rumpus, I suppose it’s the usual cry of ‘Come at once — Willie has a pain in the toe.’ Some folks seem to think a doctor has no right to a few hours’ sleep.”
He snuggled himself still farther under the bedclothes, and tried to ignore the bell and the knocker, which had now come into play, but to no purpose.
BANG! BANG! BANG! Whoever it was out there had no intention of being denied, for the house shook under the thunder of the knocking, and at last Dr. Sutton rose, and slipping on his dressing-gown, went grumbling to the door.
As he opened it, peering into the darkness, a figure darted through into the house, slamming the door after him, and clutched at the doctor’s arm with a trembling hand.
The doctor made to free himself, but the stranger clung the tighter. “I was told a doctor lives here,” he gasped, his breath coming in great gulps, that made a hoarse tearing sound in his throat. “Dr. Sutton! Are you the doctor? I want a doctor!”
The doctor surveyed him calmly before leading the way to his study. The surgery was a sort of outhouse and as cold as an ice-well, but here, in the doctor’s private study, a few embers still glowed despite the lateness of the hour, and the room was still warm.
“Yes, I am he,” he replied, and threw a log on the fire.
“Then for God’s sake, tell me — am I mad?”
Dr. Sutton looked at him before replying. He presented an extraordinary appearance. His hair was wild and thick with dust and sweat, his clothes torn, and his face, which normally would be pleasing, was now cut and bleeding and begrimed with filth. A wild look was in his eyes, but in his voice was such a note of anxious pleading that, startled as he was by the stranger’s queer aspect, the doctor was reassured.
“You have had a bad scare,” was his answer. He motioned the man to a chair, into which he immediately collapsed, and went to the bureau upon which reposed half a dozen bottles and a siphon.
“Drink this!”
The man swallowed the brandy gratefully, and gradually the color crept back into his cheeks.
The doctor regarded him keenly during the few moments of silence that followed. There was no need to hurry him; he would tell his own story when he had sufficiently recovered. He now lolled back in the chair, his right hand thrust deep into his coat pocket, his left tapping nervously on the arm, and from time to time wiping imaginary stains from off his coat and the knees of his trousers.
Obviously he was in great distress, and his nerves had been taxed to their utmost.
Presently he began to speak, and this is the tale he told.
 
***
 
“My name is Methuen — Frank Methuen — and I travel in photographic accessories. My firm — Messrs. Bardsey and Black — switched me up to this district only a fortnight ago. Previously, I had done only the South Coast towns, and I may say that I disliked intensely shooting up to Cumberland, away from all my friends, to break entirely fresh ground with my goods. However, somebody had to go, and as luck would have it I was the one to be chosen.”
He paused, and the doctor nodded encouragingly.
“We all have to do things occasionally that go against the grain,” he said. “It was not my choice to be buried in the moors like this, with a practice stretching from Gretna half way to Whitehaven. Speaking figuratively, of course,” he added with a smile, as Methuen looked incredulous. “There are times when I long for the bustle and noise of a big town, and would willingly exchange this house, cozy as it is, for a flat and a practice among the slums of Glasgow.”
“Then you can imagine how I felt, a Londoner, used to travelling as I am, when I found myself deposited by the LNER at a dirty little station near Cockermouth — Hayra, I think it was called.”
The doctor nodded again and poured out two more drinks. He was becoming interested in the man who had so unfeelingly dragged him from his bed before even the dawn had come. There were few new faces in his life, and one could get so stale with only farm laborers and petty shopkeepers to talk to. Besides, he was feeling wide awake now, and cold, despite the burning log which had now caught and was roaring up the chimney. Yes, a drink was clearly indicated.
Methuen thanked him and continued: “I spent the first week trying to persuade a Cumbrian of Scotch ancestry to start a new line of P.O.P., but could make as much impression on him as I could on a piece of concrete by beating it with a feather. The next few days I wandered about the neighboring villages, pushing the same and other articles, but without much success, and at last I decided to make for the Workington and Whitehaven district. Accordingly I mounted my motor bike late last night in an endeavor to reach the Royal Hotel, Whitehaven, in time for a bath and a good night’s rest before starting early the next morning my rounds; but Fate was against me.
“I was in the middle of a desolate tract of moorland when my bike conked out, and on dismounting I found that somehow my petrol tank had received a dinge, whether my fault or through the carelessness of the people at the last garage, I don’t know, and was leaking badly. It was, in fact, entirely empty; and on examining my spare tin, which I always carry, I discovered that someone had been liberally helping himself, and there were only a few drops left. I plugged the hole as best I could with a piece of chewing-gum — useful stuff that — and refilling with my remaining spot of juice, recommenced my journey. I had got no farther than a quarter of a mile or so when the darn thing petered out again; my mending had been futile, I was stranded.
“It was by now about ten o’clock at night, pitch dark, and as far as I could estimate, at least six miles to the nearest village. I looked about for a house or farm of some sort, but could see nothing, and to add to my discomfort a thick moorland mist began to creep up.”
He broke off.
“You know this country well, I presume?”
“Passably,” admitted the doctor.
“Well, I don’t, and I don’t mind confessing that I found myself growing horribly afraid. Here was I, a stranger, landed miles from anywhere, absolutely alone on the Cumberland moors, without a sight or a sound of a living human being and that accursed mist growing denser every second. It was ghastly!”
Methuen stopped, and putting his left hand before his eyes, made a movement as though to wipe away the recollection. Then he seemed to steady himself with an effort, and resumed:
“I am not considered a coward so far as I know by my acquaintances, but here, somehow, I seemed to get an impression of evil — intense evil, as though something malevolent was with me, watching me, gloating over my inability to get away. I could almost feel its vile breath upon me, the pressure of something like tentacles stealing softly about my body with a sickening gentleness, like some loathsome caress, luring me, urging me, forcing me onward towards a gap in the hedge. I struggled, but to resist was useless. I was powerless in the grasp of this strange malign influence.
“Imagine my joy, then, when on reaching the gap and stepping through I felt this evil presence slip from my shoulders like a discarded mantle, and saw facing me the very shelter that I sought — an inn. It was like a friendly gesture in a foreign country!
“It stood, it is true, entirely in darkness, but I had no doubt that I could soon rouse the landlord, and visions of a hearty supper of ham and eggs, well fried, with perhaps a tankard of ale, rose rapidly before my eyes.
“This side of the hedge the feeling of fear had entirely vanished, and I laughed at myself for my qualms of a few moments before. The path to the inn lay almost hidden among a mass of straggling undergrowth, and this and the overhanging trees must have accounted for my not noticing it from the road.
“It was quite a fair-sized building, a low, rambling structure of old-world design, and swinging creakily in the cool night air I recognized a painted signboard, though it was too dark for me to read its portent from where I was standing. Though I noticed nothing un-usual at the time I may say that since it has struck me forcibly that there was something uncanny in the fact that, although the other side of the hedge the mist was thick and the air still as death, here, in what might be called the garden of the inn, there was no mist, and currents of wind eddied about through the trees, fanning my face and swinging the great signboard with a strange persistency. I went up to the door and knocked loudly. My motor bike could remain where I had left it, for I had quite made up my mind that wild horses would not drag me back into that ghastly atmosphere I had just encountered in the road.
“At first there was no response, and I repeated the summons, examining the old tavern more closely during the period I was kept waiting. Here, under the eaves of the porch, I could now discern — my eyes having become accustomed to the darkness — some semblance of a picture half-obliterated by exposure to many seasons of wind and rain, upon the inn sign. This was in the nature of a coffin supported by six headless bearers goose-stepping towards a white headstone, and underneath this somewhat forbidding daub with grim irony ran the legend: ‘Ye Journey’s End’.
“Evidently the landlord was a man with either a peculiar sense of humor or gifted with an enormous propensity for continuing a tradition, for it was plain that the inn was a relic of ancient and more stirring days, and it was possible that his love of old things made him hesitate to change this gruesome, though exceedingly interesting, old sign.
“While I was thus conjecturing I heard a movement within the house, and a faint glimmer of light appeared from behind one of the windows above the porch to my right. After an appreciable pause this was suddenly extinguished, and I concluded that whoever was within the inn had decided they had imagined my knocking and retired to bed again. I had just raised my hand to deliver a sound drubbing to the massive front door when I sensed, rather than heard, a faint flip flop of loosely slippered feet approaching the door from inside. The next instant came the welcome sound of heavy iron bolts being withdrawn and the big door sung slowly inwards.
“The man who confronted me was a singularly unprepossessing individual, and I had a sensation, as I viewed him, as though someone had lightly run a brush fitted with many sharp-pointed and icy bristles down my spinal column.
“He stood squarely before me, a short squat man, with a smooth round face white as a full moon and entirely hairless. An old-fashioned nightcap covered his scalp, and about his shoulders depended a long cloak of some dark color. But what struck the greatest chill of all was this — he had no eyes!
“From the bald place where the eyebrows should have been, to the top of the puffy cheeks, stretched a thick layer of parchment-like skin, and he groped before him with his hands, using them like the antennae of some fat white slug. Ugh!”
Methuen shivered, and the doctor leaned forward in his chair. “Go on!” he said.
“Behind him stood a woman holding an old-fashioned candlestick, and the contrast between them was extraordinary. She was of middle height and of a good figure, and was draped in a kind of wrapper of filmy texture. A very goddess of a creature!
“She was handsome in a rather impudent, bold way, full-lipped and black browed, and her large eyes seemed to glow with a strange luster as she stood there watching me.
“I explained my circumstances and asked for shelter, and at the sound of my voice the landlord — for I presume it was he — reached out for my face, feeling it all over with his pulpy fingers as if to satisfy himself as to my appearance.
“I suppose the woman must have seen the look of disgust upon my features, for she called out to him, ‘Let him enter, he will do well enough’, and at the words he stood aside and beckoned me in. I may as well tell you now that had there been anything, even a barn of a fowl house, in the neighborhood where I could have spent the night secure from the cold and the penetrating damp of the mist, I would have sought it rather than pass an hour here. But this was no time to indulge fancies. I was a stranger and must count myself lucky to be admitted, and if my landlord filled me with a strange, unaccountable dread, I should have to put up with it unless I wished once more to face the terrors of that awful road outside.
“I entered, and the woman silently conducted me to a bedroom on the first floor. I should have stated before that the inn had only the two stories, and I was now immediately below the roof. At my request for some supper and a bath she shook her head, and concluding that probably she was tired, I let it go at that, after first regretting that I had disturbed her slumbers, and wishing her a ‘goodnight’. She smiled mysteriously and withdrew with a little curtsy, closing the door after her. I was alone in the room.
“I glanced round it; it was bare enough but it would do. In one corner was a small washhand-stand and towels, a couple of chairs stood against one wall, and against another was a massive oak chest. A huge four-poster bed occupied nearly the whole of one side of the room, and the remaining side was entirely bare except for a small door, which, on my trying it, refused to yield. I put my eye to the keyhole and peeped through, but of course could make out nothing because of the darkness.
“Well, I was tired and began to undress. My one illumination was a vast bronze lamp, so heavy that it must have taken three men to place it where it now stood on a pedestal in the corner near the window, and the bad light it gave made me wish my hosts had a little less love of the antique and little more of ordinary everyday comfort. As I gratefully threw off my clothes, I considered. Surely that bold beauty who had guided me to my room could not be the wife of that monstrosity who had met me at the door? And if so, what a terrible existence for her! To be shut up with such a creature alone on these desolate moors — what wrong could a mere girl do to merit such a diabolical punishment? It was against the laws of Nature! It was an outrage! Thus my chivalrous spirit took up the cause of beauty, and condemned the beast.
“At last, when I was ready for bed, the yearning for a bath once more came over me.
“I wondered — was it possible? — and crossed once more to the little door in the wall. Yes, it was locked, but that alone would not deter me. I have always made a point of carrying with me any old keys that I have ever used or even found, in case they may come in useful later on. My idiosyncrasy was rewarded, and on trying one of my bunch in the lock, to my joy I found it fitted.
“I turned it and the door opened. Rapture — a bathroom! Dirty, ill-kept, but still the joy of all Englishmen — a bathroom! I glanced round for a candle, as the lamp was too heavy to shift, but, as usual, when one needs a thing it is never to be found anywhere. Well, I would bathe in the dark, that was all!
“I turned on the tap. Even in the gloom, with only the light which escaped from my bedroom to see by, I could see that the water ran dark with iron, or, more probably, rust from disuse and the old, pipes and cistern which wheezed and gurgled over my head. The bath itself was an iron one of primitive construction, not like the enameled luxuries we are used to today. I returned to my room while the water ran, or rather, trickled, and tried my bed.
“Here at any rate was comfort, and again I laughed at my earlier fears. I might fare a great deal worse than spend a night on this feathered mattress, and if I filched a bath, even a cold one, and no one the wiser — well, it was all to the good. I began at last to consider myself in luck’s way. I whistled cheerfully as I returned to the bathroom and slipped of my dressing-gown; I chuckled at my deceit as I turned off the water and stepped into the bath. Then I caught my breath, transfixed. God in heaven! What was this?
“The sides and bottom of the bath were thick and slippery with blood! I reeled and leapt out, and then for a moment I think I must have fainted.
“When I recovered I was lying at the side of that foul receptacle, and my feet and ankles were red with the rapidly congealing fluid, which something told me was unquestionably the lifeblood of a human being. At first I was too dazed to think coherently. The macabre ablutions I had so nearly performed were too hideous to contemplate. When at last my strength had returned sufficiently to permit me to regain my own room and wipe the malodorous beastliness, now grown sticky and glutinous, from my feet with my towel, I felt better, and tried to consider the whole affair in a calm light. It seemed impossible! Yet there were the vile stains upon my towel to convince me that I had suffered no monstrous hallucination. It was real! It was horrible! It was harrowing, revolting, but undeniably true!
“For how long I remained sitting hunched upon my bed, striving to collect my scattered wits, I do not know. It may have been five minutes, but it seemed an eternity.
“At last I gathered my things together and began to dress. To sleep was impossible with the knowledge of that horror lying so near and so silent in the next room. For that the body was concealed somewhere within that fatal bathroom I had no doubt; the body of the poor victim drained of his blood as though he had been sucked dry by some mighty leech, which in turn had disgorged its ghastly meal into that reeking bath.
“A leech! In a flash it came to me, the simile I had sought to fit to my blind landlord. That was what it was he reminded me of so forcibly — a great loathsome white leech, glutted with blood, and greedy, greedy for more!
“Who would be next? I shuddered, then I flew to the window. No! Escape that way was out of the question, for I saw now what had previously eluded my notice. From top to bottom of my window, fixed firmly into the masonry, ran six stout iron bars, and whatever else in the inn might have fallen into decay, these remained in a perfect state of preservation
“I ran to the door — it was locked! I was a prisoner!
“Then as I stood there wondering what to do, I heard again the steady flip-flop, flip-flop of loosely fitting slippers on the stairs. They came nearer, nearer; they reached my door; they ceased!
“Watching with eyes dilated with fear, I saw the lock slip noiselessly back in its socket and the door knob begin to turn slowly, almost imperceptibly, round.
“I stood rooted to the spot, paralyzed with terror, my heart pounding in my throat, the blood hammering in my temples with the noise of muffled drums.
“The silence was awful!
“Not a sound broke the stillness save the whistling of my breath between my teeth and the slow drip-drip-drip from the bathroom tap. Then I felt a tremor of icy air fan my cheek, which gradually grew to a steady draught — the door was stealthily opening!
“Somehow I found my voice.
“‘Go away!’ I screamed, a thin, unnatural sound, and threw my whole weight against this last, barrier between myself and — What? I felt a moment’s resistance, then it yielded and shut, and as I lay clawing the panels in a paroxysm of fright, I heard the shuffling footsteps recede until once more absolute stillness reigned. For some minutes longer I lay there panting, cursing myself for a coward, and wondering why I had not brained the blind horror and made good my escape, but somehow it seemed that in the presence of this creature every vestige of manliness was drained from me and I was left a craven, cowed by the awful sense of evil that emanated from him.
“After a little while I plucked up my courage and opened the door. The landing was in darkness, but what was more important the key was missing from the other side of the door. It was consequently impossible for me to lock myself in, and not for a kingdom would I risk an attempt to get out that way.
“I closed the door again, and, crossing the room, tried to shift the great oak chest. With a big effort I found this to be possible, so bit by bit, I eased it nearer, until at last it rested across my threshold, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Here at any rate was a barrier to be reckoned with! Now there was nothing for it but to wait until daylight, and leaving the lamp still burning, I flung myself down fully dressed on the bed, resolved to bear with the circumstances as best I could.
“I have mentioned that the bed was an old four-poster one, and it was hung with faded green curtains which depended in the usual style from the canopy overhead to my right and left and round at the back, excluding all draught.
“As I lay there I examined these with idle interest, casting my eyes up until I reached the canopy itself.
“I am not fastidious, as you may have guessed, but if there is one insect which fills me with more disgust than another it is a spider, and there, dangling by a single thread immediately above my face, was a great fat monster of the species. A long point of metal stuck down from the middle of the canopy, which had been used, I conjectured, at some time for forming the base of a swinging lantern, and from this the insect had spun its web across to one of the poles at the head of the bed.
He had now returned to the center of his trap and as I have said, dangled precariously over my face.
“I watched him, fascinated, but by now I was worn out and from time to time caught myself dozing. I strove to keep awake, but Nature asserted herself, and at last I succumbed to her wooing. I slept.
“The next thing I remember was feeling the plop of the wretched insect as it landed on my cheek and scuttled down my neck. With a smothered cry I leapt from my bed, and as I did so the long metal point fell with a swish and embedded itself in the depression just vacated by my body. I tell you, sir, that spider saved my life!
“Wondering, and not a little afraid, I ungratefully brushed the creature from my person and approached the bed. Then I think I realized what it meant. That metal point was part of a long spear-like contrivance, whose shaft vanished through a small hole in the ceiling, the whole being the most damnable invention for murder ever conceived by the brain of a fiend!
“Its fall had broken the web, and, presumably, the preliminary trembling of the shaft before its release had frightened the spider, which had alighted on my face, warning me in its turn.
“A Providential escape!
“As I paused irresolute in the middle of the room I thought I heard a slight movement outside the door, but may have been mistaken. I waited a few moments longer to reassure myself that this was but the outcome of extreme nervous tension, and stood listening intently. Then from behind the wall at the side of the bed there came the unmistakable sound of something scratching softly, scratching and fumbling, and the sound of a click.
“I wheeled round
“Slowly, very slowly, a crack appeared in the wall itself, and from within showed the faint glimmer of a light.
“In a trice I was across the room and had put out my lamp. This time I had no intention of letting my fears overcome my faculties. With the courage born of desperation I forced myself again to enter that loathsome bathroom and pushed the door to, taking care to leave it just sufficiently ajar to enable me to watch whatever might be about to occur, while at the same time keeping myself free from observation. From my new point of vantage I saw the gap in the panel widen. I saw the pulpy hands like the antennae of a huge slug come feeling along the wall, and then, like the obscene figment of an unhealthy imagination, my landlord stepped into the room. For a moment he paused, listening, his hands pawing the air before him as if un-certain of his direction, and then stealthily, noiselessly he turned and moved, groping towards my bed.
“Behind him, framed in the space of the open panel, stood the woman, her hand still grasping the candle in the same way in which she had met me at the door, but on her face was such an expression of ghoulish exultation that I shivered, for only a devil could exult as she did then.
“By now the man had reached the side of the bed, and softly his hands felt over the sheets, groping, groping. They touched the spear-shaft, and with a sound like the contented purr of a giant cat he slid his hands down the shaft, feeling for the body which had so lately lain there.
“Suddenly he snarled and started back, and at the sound the woman came into the room. With one glance she comprehended the situation and seized him by the arm.
“‘Quick! The bathroom!’ she whispered, and half pushing, half dragging the blind, groping creature, moved swiftly in my direction. There was no time to lose. Like a flash I cast round for some means of egress from this charnel-house. Above the cistern, which was over the bath, something winked and twinkled — a star.
Like lightning I clawed my way up the pipes to the skylight, and lay there gasping. A foul stench assailed my nostrils, but I dare not move. Indeed, I had hardly gained the top of the cistern and flung myself flat before the door opened and my pursuers stood on the threshold. Would they see me?
“I think I prayed then as I have never prayed before. Right from my heart I sent up a cry to heaven for assistance.
“The woman said something and stooped, feeling under the bath. When she stood up again, I saw that she held an axe in her hand, and she began to laugh horribly. It was like the roar of a wild animal that smells raw meat.
“‘Come down!’ she cried. ‘You must pay for your lodging,’ and when I made no movement, thrust the candle into the man’s hand and made to climb up after me.
“It was the work of a second to put my elbow through the glass and break the window, and as I struggled to get through I heard her clambering up after me with the agility of a young tigress.
“Once I slipped and fell, striking the lid of the cistern, which gave way beneath my weight, and my feet and hands came in contact with some soft and flabby substance. I looked down — horror of horrors! I was kneeling on a heap of mutilated corpses!
“Men and women were there, some untouched by of the hand of corruption, others in the final stages of decomposition; the bodies of wayfarers like myself who had tasted the hospitality of this appalling inn.
“I scrambled out and, reaching the window, threw myself out upon the sloping tiles of the roof. I could see the face of the woman distorted with fury, as she too began to squeeze her way through the skylight. I edged myself nearer the eaves to a spot where a branch of a tree overhung the roof, holding out promise of escape. I had almost grasped this blessed branch in my hands when suddenly my foot slipped on a piece of moss and I slithered to the edge and clung there with all my might.
“To fall now might mean a broken limb, and that spelt capture, with all that it entailed.
“I hesitated and was lost.
“With a scream of triumph the woman was upon me. Horrified, I saw her whirl the axe aloft. Hypnotized, I watched the instrument descend, relentless, cruel, and heard it swish as it cleaved the air. Then there came a stinging sensation in my right hand, and I found myself slipping, falling to the ground below.
“Somehow I staggered to my feet and fled.
“How long I ran through the night like a mad thing I don’t know. I only know that when at last I did look back for a possible pursuer, the place where the inn had stood was a blaze of flame, and the sky above glowed crimson in the surrounding darkness.”
Methuen ceased, and the sweat was standing out in great beads on his brow, as though he had lived again his harrowing experience.
“Very interesting,” remarked the doctor. “So the inn caught fire? How was that?”
“I can only conclude that when the woman gave the blind man the candle to hold he must have placed it against his flannelette nightgown inadvertently, and blundered out of the bathroom in his panic, to come up against some such draperies as those about the four-poster.”
The doctor smiled.
“You are certainly adept at explaining things,” he admitted.
Methuen rose and went behind his chair. He was very pale, and placed his left hand on the back of it as though to support himself as he faced the doctor.
“So you do think I’m mad?” he exclaimed slowly.
The doctor shrugged.
“Then how do you account for this?”
With a sudden gesture he withdrew his right arm from his coat pocket and thrust it out before him.
All four fingers of the hand were missing and the roughly improvised bandages hung loosely, sticky and wet with blood.
Dr. Sutton caught him as he swayed and fell.
 
Lost Hearts
by M. R. James
 
 
 
It was, as far as I can ascertain, in September of the year 1811 that a post-chaise drew up before the door of Aswarby Hall, in the heart of Lincolnshire. The little boy who was the only passenger in the chaise, and who jumped out as soon as it had stopped, looked about him with the keenest curiosity during the short interval that elapsed between the ringing of the bell and the opening of the hall door. He saw a tall, square, red-brick house, built in the reign of Anne; a stone-pillared porch had been added in the purer classical style of 1790; the windows of the house were many, tall and narrow, with small panes and thick white woodwork. A pediment, pierced with a round window, crowned the front. There were wings to right and left, connected by curious glazed galleries, supported by colonnades, with the central block. These wings plainly contained the stables and offices of the house. Each was surmounted by an ornamental cupola with a gilded vane.
An evening light shone on the building, making the window-panes glow like so many fires. Away from the Hall in front stretched a flat park studded with oaks and fringed with firs, which stood out against the sky. The clock in the church-tower, buried in trees on the edge of the park, only its golden weather-cock catching the light, was striking six, and the sound came gently beating down the wind. It was altogether a pleasant impression, though tinged with the sort of melancholy appropriate to an evening in early autumn, that was conveyed to the mind of the boy who was standing in the porch waiting for the door to open to him.
The post-chaise had brought him from Warwickshire, where, some six months before, he had been left an orphan. Now, owing to the generous offer of his elderly cousin, Mr. Abney, he had come to live at Aswarby. The offer was unexpected, because all who knew anything of Mr. Abney looked upon him as a somewhat austere recluse, into whose steady-going household the advent of a small boy would import a new and, it seemed, incongruous element. The truth is that very little was known of Mr. Abney’s pursuits or temper. The Professor of Greek at Cambridge had been heard to say that no one knew more of the religious beliefs of the later pagans than did the owner of Aswarby. Certainly his library contained all the then available books bearing on the Mysteries, the Orphic poems, the worship of Mithras, and the Neo — Platonists. In the marble-paved hall stood a fine group of Mithras slaying a bull, which had been imported from the Levant at great expense by the owner. He had contributed a description of it to the Gentleman’s Magazine , and he had written a remarkable series of articles in the Critical Museum on the superstitions of the Romans of the Lower Empire. He was looked upon, in fine, as a man wrapped up in his books, and it was a matter of great surprise among his neighbors that he should ever have heard of his orphan cousin, Stephen Elliott, much more that he should have volunteered to make him an inmate of Aswarby Hall.
Whatever may have been expected by his neighbors, it is certain that Mr. Abney — the tall, the thin, the austere — seemed inclined to give his young cousin a kindly reception. The moment the front-door was opened he darted out of his study, rubbing his hands with delight.
‘How are you, my boy? — how are you? How old are you?’ said he — ‘that is, you are not too much tired, I hope, by your journey to eat your supper?’
‘No, thank you, sir,’ said Master Elliott; ‘I am pretty well.’
‘That’s a good lad,’ said Mr. Abney. ‘And how old are you, my boy?’
It seemed a little odd that he should have asked the question twice in the first two minutes of their acquaintance.
‘I’m twelve years old next birthday, sir,’ said Stephen.
‘And when is your birthday, my dear boy? Eleventh of September, eh? That’s well — that’s very well. Nearly a year hence, isn’t it? I like — ha, ha! — I like to get these things down in my book. Sure it’s twelve? Certain?’
‘Yes, quite sure, sir.’
‘Well, well! Take him to Mrs. Bunch’s room, Parkes, and let him have his tea — supper — whatever it is.’
‘Yes, sir,’ answered the staid Mr. Parkes; and conducted Stephen to the lower regions.
Mrs. Bunch was the most comfortable and human person whom Stephen had as yet met at Aswarby. She made him completely at home; they were great friends in a quarter of an hour: and great friends they remained. Mrs. Bunch had been born in the neighborhood some fifty-five years before the date of Stephen’s arrival, and her residence at the Hall was of twenty years’ standing. Consequently, if anyone knew the ins and outs of the house and the district, Mrs. Bunch knew them; and she was by no means disinclined to communicate her information.
Certainly there were plenty of things about the Hall and the Hall gardens which Stephen, who was of an adventurous and inquiring turn, was anxious to have explained to him. ‘Who built the temple at the end of the laurel walk? Who was the old man whose picture hung on the staircase, sitting at a table, with a skull under his hand?’ These and many similar points were cleared up by the resources of Mrs. Bunch’s powerful intellect. There were others, however, of which the explanations furnished were less satisfactory.
One November evening Stephen was sitting by the fire in the housekeeper’s room reflecting on his surroundings.
‘Is Mr. Abney a good man, and will he go to heaven?’ he suddenly asked, with the peculiar confidence which children possess in the ability of their elders to settle these questions, the decision of which is believed to be reserved for other tribunals.
‘Good? — bless the child!’ said Mrs. Bunch. ‘Master’s as kind a soul as ever I see! Didn’t I never tell you of the little boy as he took in out of the street, as you may say, this seven years back? and the little girl, two years after I first come here?’
‘No. Do tell me all about them, Mrs. Bunch — now, this minute!’
‘Well,’ said Mrs. Bunch, ‘the little girl I don’t seem to recollect so much about. I know master brought her back with him from his walk one day, and give orders to Mrs. Ellis, as was housekeeper then, as she should be took every care with. And the pore child hadn’t no one belonging to her — she telled me so her own self — and here she lived with us a matter of three weeks it might be; and then, whether she were somethink of a gipsy in her blood or what not, but one morning she out of her bed afore any of us had opened a eye, and neither track nor yet trace of her have I set eyes on since. Master was wonderful put about, and had all the ponds dragged; but it’s my belief she was had away by them gipsies, for there was singing round the house for as much as an hour the night she went, and Parkes, he declare as he heard them a-calling in the woods all that afternoon. Dear, dear! a hodd child she was, so silent in her ways and all, but I was wonderful taken up with her, so domesticated she was — surprising.’
‘And what about the little boy?’ said Stephen.
‘Ah, that pore boy!’ sighed Mrs. Bunch. ‘He were a foreigner — Jevanny he called hisself — and he come a-tweaking his ‘urdy-gurdy round and about the drive one winter day, and master ‘ad him in that minute, and ast all about where he came from, and how old he was, and how he made his way, and where was his relatives, and all as kind as heart could wish. But it went the same way with him. They’re a hunruly lot, them foreign nations, I do suppose, and he was off one fine morning just the same as the girl. Why he went and what he done was our question for as much as a year after; for he never took his ‘urdy-gurdy, and there it lays on the shelf.’
The remainder of the evening was spent by Stephen in miscellaneous cross-examination of Mrs. Bunch and in efforts to extract a tune from the hurdy-gurdy.
That night he had a curious dream. At the end of the passage at the top of the house, in which his bedroom was situated, there was an old disused bathroom. It was kept locked, but the upper half of the door was glazed, and, since the muslin curtains which used to hang there had long been gone, you could look in and see the lead-lined bath affixed to the wall on the right hand, with its head towards the window.
On the night of which I am speaking, Stephen Elliott found himself, as he thought, looking through the glazed door. The moon was shining through the window, and he was gazing at a figure which lay in the bath.
His description of what he saw reminds me of what I once beheld myself in the famous vaults of St Michan’s Church in Dublin, which possesses the horrid property of preserving corpses from decay for centuries. A figure inexpressibly thin and pathetic, of a dusty leaden color, enveloped in a shroud-like garment, the thin lips crooked into a faint and dreadful smile, the hands pressed tightly over the region of the heart.
As he looked upon it, a distant, almost inaudible moan seemed to issue from its lips, and the arms began to stir. The terror of the sight forced Stephen backwards and he awoke to the fact that he was indeed standing on the cold boarded floor of the passage in the full light of the moon. With a courage which I do not think can be common among boys of his age, he went to the door of the bathroom to ascertain if the figure of his dreams were really there. It was not, and he went back to bed.
Mrs. Bunch was much impressed next morning by his story, and went so far as to replace the muslin curtain over the glazed door of the bathroom. Mr. Abney, moreover, to whom he confided his experiences at breakfast, was greatly interested and made notes of the matter in what he called ‘his book’.
The spring equinox was approaching, as Mr. Abney frequently reminded his cousin, adding that this had been always considered by the ancients to be a critical time for the young: that Stephen would do well to take care of himself, and to shut his bedroom window at night; and that Censorinus had some valuable remarks on the subject. Two incidents that occurred about this time made an impression upon Stephen’s mind.
The first was after an unusually uneasy and oppressed night that he had passed — though he could not recall any particular dream that he had had.
The following evening Mrs. Bunch was occupying herself in mending his nightgown.
‘Gracious me, Master Stephen!’ she broke forth rather irritably, ‘how do you manage to tear your nightdress all to flinders this way? Look here, sir, what trouble you do give to poor servants that have to darn and mend after you!’
There was indeed a most destructive and apparently wanton series of slits or scorings in the garment, which would undoubtedly require a skillful needle to make good. They were confined to the left side of the chest — long, parallel slits about six inches in length, some of them not quite piercing the texture of the linen. Stephen could only express his entire ignorance of their origin: he was sure they were not there the night before.
‘But,’ he said, ‘Mrs. Bunch, they are just the same as the scratches on the outside of my bedroom door: and I’m sure I never had anything to do with making them .’
Mrs. Bunch gazed at him open-mouthed, then snatched up a candle, departed hastily from the room, and was heard making her way upstairs. In a few minutes she came down.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘Master Stephen, it’s a funny thing to me how them marks and scratches can ‘a’ come there — too high up for any cat or dog to ‘ave made ‘em, much less a rat: for all the world like a Chinaman’s finger-nails, as my uncle in the tea-trade used to tell us of when we was girls together. I wouldn’t say nothing to master, not if I was you, Master Stephen, my dear; and just turn the key of the door when you go to your bed.’
‘I always do, Mrs. Bunch, as soon as I’ve said my prayers.’
‘Ah, that’s a good child: always say your prayers, and then no one can’t hurt you.’
Herewith Mrs. Bunch addressed herself to mending the injured nightgown, with intervals of meditation, until bed-time. This was on a Friday night in March, 1812.
On the following evening the usual duet of Stephen and Mrs. Bunch was augmented by the sudden arrival of Mr. Parkes, the butler, who as a rule kept himself rather to himself in his own pantry. He did not see that Stephen was there: he was, moreover, flustered and less slow of speech than was his wont.
‘Master may get up his own wine, if he likes, of an evening,’ was his first remark. ‘Either I do it in the daytime or not at all, Mrs. Bunch. I don’t know what it may be: very like it’s the rats, or the wind got into the cellars; but I’m not so young as I was, and I can’t go through with it as I have done.’
‘Well, Mr. Parkes, you know it is a surprising place for the rats, is the Hall.’
‘I’m not denying that, Mrs. Bunch; and, to be sure, many a time I’ve heard the tale from the men in the shipyards about the rat that could speak. I never laid no confidence in that before; but tonight, if I’d demeaned myself to lay my ear to the door of the further bin, I could pretty much have heard what they was saying.’
‘Oh, there, Mr. Parkes, I’ve no patience with your fancies! Rats talking in the wine-cellar indeed!’
‘Well, Mrs. Bunch, I’ve no wish to argue with you: all I say is, if you choose to go to the far bin, and lay your ear to the door, you may prove my words this minute.’
‘What nonsense you do talk, Mr. Parkes — not fit for children to listen to! Why, you’ll be frightening Master Stephen there out of his wits.’
‘What! Master Stephen?’ said Parkes, awaking to the consciousness of the boy’s presence. ‘Master Stephen knows well enough when I’m a-playing a joke with you, Mrs. Bunch.’
In fact, Master Stephen knew much too well to suppose that Mr. Parkes had in the first instance intended a joke. He was interested, not altogether pleasantly, in the situation; but all his questions were unsuccessful in inducing the butler to give any more detailed account of his experiences in the wine-cellar.
 
***
 
We have now arrived at March 24, 1812. It was a day of curious experiences for Stephen: a windy, noisy day, which filled the house and the gardens with a restless impression. As Stephen stood by the fence of the grounds, and looked out into the park, he felt as if an endless procession of unseen people were sweeping past him on the wind, borne on resistlessly and aimlessly, vainly striving to stop themselves, to catch at something that might arrest their flight and bring them once again into contact with the living world of which they had formed a part. After luncheon that day Mr. Abney said:
‘Stephen, my boy, do you think you could manage to come to me tonight as late as eleven o’clock in my study? I shall be busy until that time, and I wish to show you something connected with your future life which it is most important that you should know. You are not to mention this matter to Mrs. Bunch nor to anyone else in the house; and you had better go to your room at the usual time.’
Here was a new excitement added to life: Stephen eagerly grasped at the opportunity of sitting up till eleven o’clock. He looked in at the library door on his way upstairs that evening, and saw a brazier, which he had often noticed in the corner of the room, moved out before the fire; an old silver-gilt cup stood on the table, filled with red wine, and some written sheets of paper lay near it. Mr. Abney was sprinkling some incense on the brazier from a round silver box as Stephen passed, but did not seem to notice his step.
The wind had fallen, and there was a still night and a full moon. At about ten o’clock Stephen was standing at the open window of his bedroom, looking out over the country. Still as the night was, the mysterious population of the distant moon-lit woods was not yet lulled to rest. From time to time strange cries as of lost and despairing wanderers sounded from across the mere. They might be the notes of owls or water-birds, yet they did not quite resemble either sound. Were not they coming nearer? Now they sounded from the nearer side of the water, and in a few moments they seemed to be floating about among the shrubberies. Then they ceased; but just as Stephen was thinking of shutting the window and resuming his reading of Robinson Crusoe , he caught sight of two figures standing on the graveled terrace that ran along the garden side of the Hall — the figures of a boy and girl, as it seemed; they stood side by side, looking up at the windows. Something in the form of the girl recalled irresistibly his dream of the figure in the bath. The boy inspired him with more acute fear.
Whilst the girl stood still, half smiling, with her hands clasped over her heart, the boy, a thin shape, with black hair and ragged clothing, raised his arms in the air with an appearance of menace and of unappeasable hunger and longing. The moon shone upon his almost transparent hands, and Stephen saw that the nails were fearfully long and that the light shone through them. As he stood with his arms thus raised, he disclosed a terrifying spectacle. On the left side of his chest there opened a black and gaping rent; and there fell upon Stephen’s brain, rather than upon his ear, the impression of one of those hungry and desolate cries that he had heard resounding over the woods of Aswarby all that evening. In another moment this dreadful pair had moved swiftly and noiselessly over the dry gravel, and he saw them no more.
Inexpressibly frightened as he was, he determined to take his candle and go down to Mr. Abney’s study, for the hour appointed for their meeting was near at hand. The study or library opened out of the front-hall on one side, and Stephen, urged on by his terrors, did not take long in getting there. To effect an entrance was not so easy. It was not locked, he felt sure, for the key was on the outside of the door as usual. His repeated knocks produced no answer. Mr. Abney was engaged: he was speaking. What! why did he try to cry out? and why was the cry choked in his throat? Had he, too, seen the mysterious children? But now everything was quiet, and the door yielded to Stephen’s terrified and frantic pushing.
 
***
 
On the table in Mr. Abney’s study certain papers were found which explained the situation to Stephen Elliott when he was of an age to understand them. The most important sentences were as follows:
‘It was a belief very strongly and generally held by the ancients — of whose wisdom in these matters I have had such experience as induces me to place confidence in their assertions — that by enacting certain processes, which to us moderns have something of a barbaric complexion, a very remarkable enlightenment of the spiritual faculties in man may be attained: that, for example, by absorbing the personalities of a certain number of his fellow-creatures, an individual may gain a complete ascendancy over those orders of spiritual beings which control the elemental forces of our universe.
‘It is recorded of Simon Magus that he was able to fly in the air, to become invisible, or to assume any form he pleased, by the agency of the soul of a boy whom, to use the libelous phrase employed by the author of the Clementine Recognitions , he had “murdered”. I find it set down, moreover, with considerable detail in the writings of Hermes Trismegistus, that similar happy results may be produced by the absorption of the hearts of not less than three human beings below the age of twenty-one years. To the testing of the truth of this receipt I have devoted the greater part of the last twenty years, selecting as the corpora vilia of my experiment such persons as could conveniently be removed without occasioning a sensible gap in society. The first step I effected by the removal of one Phoebe Stanley, a girl of gipsy extraction, on March 24, 1792. The second, by the removal of a wandering Italian lad, named Giovanni Paoli, on the night of March 23, 1805. The final “victim”— to employ a word repugnant in the highest degree to my feelings — must be my cousin, Stephen Elliott. His day must be this March 24, 1812.
‘The best means of effecting the required absorption is to remove the heart from the living subject, to reduce it to ashes, and to mingle them with about a pint of some red wine, preferably port. The remains of the first two subjects, at least, it will be well to conceal: a disused bathroom or wine-cellar will be found convenient for such a purpose. Some annoyance may be experienced from the psychic portion of the subjects, which popular language dignifies with the name of ghosts. But the man of philosophic temperament — to whom alone the experiment is appropriate — will be little prone to attach importance to the feeble efforts of these beings to wreak their vengeance on him. I contemplate with the liveliest satisfaction the enlarged and emancipated existence which the experiment, if successful, will confer on me; not only placing me beyond the reach of human justice (so-called), but eliminating to a great extent the prospect of death itself.’
 
***
 
Mr. Abney was found in his chair, his head thrown back, his face stamped with an expression of rage, fright, and mortal pain. In his left side was a terrible lacerated wound, exposing the heart. There was no blood on his hands, and a long knife that lay on the table was perfectly clean. A savage wild-cat might have inflicted the injuries. The window of the study was open, and it was the opinion of the coroner that Mr. Abney had met his death by the agency of some wild creature. But Stephen Elliott’s study of the papers I have quoted led him to a very different conclusion.
 
The Middle Bedroom
by Henry De Vere Stacpoole
 
 
 
Are all living creatures represented in the human race, so that we find shark men — or, at least, men with the instincts of sharks — sloth men, cat men, tiger men, and so on? Le Brun started the idea, I believe, and I take it up as bearing on the case of Sir Michael Carey, of Carey House, near Innis Town, on the west coast of Ireland.
I would ask another question before starting on my story: If a man were to give way to his natural instincts and retire from the world would he develop, or, rather, degenerate, along the line of his main instinct? Who can say? I only know that Sir Michael, the builder of the house that took his name, was known a hundred years ago amongst the illiterate peasantry as “ the spider,” that so dubbed on account of his mentality and general make-up, he lived alone in his house like a spider in a gloomy corner, that, according to legend, the devil came and took him one dark night, leaving neither rag nor bone of him and that his ghost was reputed to haunt Carey House and the country round, ever after.
The next of kin, Mr. Massy Pope, tried to live in the house. He left suddenly on account of the “loneliness” of the situation and succeeded in letting the place, with the shooting and fishing rights, to a hard-headed Englishman named Doubleday.
Doubleday didn’t believe in ghosts nor care about them, snipe was his game and cock; he was a two-bottle man — it was in 1863 — and if he had met with a ghost any time after ten o’clock he would scarcely have seen it, or seeing it, would not have cared. But his servants were the trouble. They left one day in a body, being softheaded folk and unfortified and having a very good reason of their own. Then some years elapsed and the story of the next let, as told to me by Micky Feelan one day, out shooting, was as follows:
“When Mr. Doubleday had gone, sor, the house laid empty, spilin’ the country for miles round, not a man would go into the groun’s to trap a rabbit nor a woman enter its doors to lift a window, and Mr. Pope squanderin’ his money to advertise it. That’s the man he was, he wouldn’t be bet by it, rowlin’ in riches what did it matter to him whether it lay let or empty, not a brass farthin’, but lie wouldn’t be bet by it, it was like a horse that wouldn’t rise at a ditch and he’d canther it back and try it again and lather it over the head, squanderin’ his money in the advertisin’ till all of a sudden he got a rise out of a family be name of Leftwidge.
“Dublin people they were, with a grocer’s shop in old Fishamble Street. There was a dozen of them, mostly childer and one red-headed strip of a girl to do the cookin’. Twenty pound a year was the rent, I’ve heard tell, and they lived mostly be trappin’ rabbits, the boys doin’ a bit of fishin’ and the groceries comin’ from the shop where the ould father stuck at work in his shin sleeves while the rest of the lot was airin’ themselves in the counthry.
“Be jabers, they were a crowd, ghosts! Little they cared about ghosts shamblin’ about widout shoes or stockin’s and the boys wid their sticks and catapults killin’ hens be the sly and maltreatin’ the country boys like Red Injuns, the shame of the county.
“Norah Driscol was the name of the redheaded slip and many a time me mother has seen her wid her apron over her head rockin’ and cryin’ wid the treatment of them boys and the botheration of the rest of them, for there was a matter of a dozen or more, rangin’ like the pipes of an organ from Micky the eldest son six fut and as thin as a gas pipe, to Pat the youngest not the height of your knee.
“Well, sor, the ghost lay aisy at the sight of the lot of them and didn’t let a word out of it for a full month. Then one day, Norah Driscoll was goin’ along the top flure passage whin the band begin to play. The bedrooms was mostly on that passage and the house agent had warned them against havin’ anythin’ to do with the middle most bedroom, for, says he, there’s rats there that can’t be got rid of and that’s the cause of all the trouble in the lettin’ of the house, says he. It would be a hundred and twenty a year rent, only for them rats, says he, so they’re worth a hundred a year to you if you just keep the door shut and don’t bother about the noises they do be makin’ at odd times — sometimes it’s like as if they was sneezin’ and blowin’ their noses and sometimes it’s like as if they was walkin’ about with their brogues on and sometimes it’s like as if they was cursin’ and swearin’. Don’t you mind them, he says, but keep sayin’ over and over to yourself they’re worth a hundred a year to me. That’s what he tould Mrs. Leftwidge.
“Well, sor, Norah was moonin’ along the passage, sent to fetch a duster or somethin’ when she opened the dure of the middle bedroom be mistake. There was no furniture in it, not as much as a three-legged stool and the blind was down, but a shaft of the sun struck through be the side of the blind and there in the middle of the (lure was sittin’ a little old man dressed as they was dressed a hundred years ago in an ould brown coat wid brass buttons and all and the face of him wider his hat topped the sight of him, for Norah said it wasn’t a face, but more like one of those masks the childer make out of a bit of paper with holes in it.
“The screech she let out of her as she banged the dure to, brought the family runnin’ from downstairs, and the boys slammed open the door to get at the chap but there wasn’t a speck of him.
“It’s a rat she saw,’ says Mrs. Leftwidge, ‘Downstairs wid the lot of you or I’ll give you the linth of me slipper — and open that dure again if you dare.’
“Down they went, Norah bawlin’ and the old woman pushin’ her and nothin’ more happened that day till the night. Half a dozen of the little ones slep’ in the same room with their mother to save the light and be under control and gettin’ on for twelve o’clock the old woman, snorin’ wid her mouth wide, was woke from her slape be one of the childer.
“‘Mummy,’ says he, ‘listen to the bagpipes.’ She lifted herself on her elbow, but, faith, she could have heard it with her head under the clothes, for the dhrone of the pipes filled the house comin’ from the middle bedroom.
“Next minit the whole lither of them was in the passage, the old woman with a gutherin’ candle in her hand, and as they stood there keepin’ time with their teeth to the tune of the pipes, the noise of it suddenly let off and the handle of the middle bedroom dure began to turn.
“They didn’t wait to see what was comin’ out; no, your honor, you may bet your life they didn’t, they was half of them under their beds the linth of that night and next mornin’ they began to pack to go back to Dublin, gettin’ their old traps together and strippin’ the garden to take back wid them in hampers. Micky, the second boy, was sent runnin’ to hire two cars to take them to the station, for the railway in those days had just come to Drutnboyne, twelve miles away, and whilst he was gone they tore up the potatoes and cut the cabbages and faith they’d have taken the flurin’ away if they’d had manes to shift it.
“Well, there they were strapped and ready to go when Mrs. Left-widge, sittin’ in her bonnet on the boxes and atin’ a sandwidge, sud-denly stops her chewin’ and looks about her like a hen countin’ her chickens:
“‘Where’s Pat?’ says she.
“Pat was the youngest, as I’ve tould you, sor, a bit of a chap in pet-ticoats, no size at all and always gettin’ astray.
“I don’t know,’ says one of the boys, ‘but faith, I hear him shoutin’ somewhere upstairs.’
“Upstairs they all rushed led be the woman and they hadn’t no sooner reached the top passage than they seen Pat bein’ whisked through the open dure of the middle bedroom, dragged along be some-body’s hand, and when they reached the dure, there was Pat bein’ dragged up the chimney.
“It was one of them big ould chimneys a man could go up, and the heels of the child was disappearin’ when Mrs. Leftwidge lays hold of a fut and pulls, bawlin’ murder Irish, till the thing in the chimney let go its holt and Pat comes into the grate, kickin’ like a pup in the shtrangles and liftin’ the roof off with the hullabaloo of him.
“She tuck him be one fut like a turkey and down she runs with him and into the garden and there when they’d soothed him he gives his story, how he’d been playin’ in the passage when a little ould man, the funniest ould man he’d ever seen pokes his head out of the bedroom dure. Pat, poor divil, bein’ sated at his play couldn’t get his legs under him wid the fright, he could only sit and shout whilst the head of the little ould man pops in and out of the dureway like the head of a tortoise from its shell.
“Then out he comes the whole of him and grabs the child be the hand and whisks him off into the bedroom and goes up the chimney heels and first haulin’ Pat after him. Goes up like a spider.
“Well, they was sittin’ about on the boxes they’d hauled out of the house waitin’ for the cars and tryin’ to squeeze more of the news out of Pat, when up comes the cars wid Sergeant Rafferty and Constable O’Halloran on wan of them, to see they weren’t takin’ the house away wid them — they’d got that bad name in the county.
“And when the sergeant heard the story, up he went to the bedroom and down he comes again.
“‘Here,’ says he to O’Halloran, ‘take this lot off to the train and go to the barracks and fetch me two carbines wid buck shot ca’tridges —the same ould Forster used to shoot the boys with, bad luck to him —and look slippy,’ says he, ‘for I’m a brave man, but I don’t want to be no longer here be myself than’s needful.’
“Off the cars went wid the family packed like flies on them an’ in a matter of a couple of hours back comes the constable wid the guns. Up they go to the bedroom.
“‘Stick your head up the chimney,’ says the sergeant.
“‘I’ll be — if do,’ says the other.
“‘Well, then, shut it,’ says the sergeant, ‘and keep still.’
“They listened but they didn’t hear nothing at all. Then the sergeant begins talkin’ in a loud voice, winkin’ at the other.
“‘There’s nothin’ there,’ says he, ‘it was a ghost they saw and it’s gettin’ oneasy I am meself. Let’s get off back to Drumboyne and have a glass and lave the ould house to look afther itself.’
“I’m wid you,’ says the constable and downstairs they tramped, makin’ as much noise wid their big boots as a rigiment of soldiers. Then in the hall they sits down and begins takin’ off their boots.
“‘All the same,’ says the constable as he pulled the laces, I’d be just as aisy in me mind if I was three miles off trampin’ on the road to Drumboyne.’
“‘So would I,’ says the sergeant, and it’s there I’d be only I’m thinkin’ of promotion.’
“I’m thinkin’ of ghosts,’ says the constable wid the boot-lace in his hand.
“‘Go on unlacin’ your boots,’ says the other, ‘and don’t be a keyoward, this is no ghost. Ghosts can’t pull childer up chimneys.’
“‘Faith, you seem to know a lot about them,’ says the constable, but it’s I that am thinkin’ it’s holy water and Father Mooney ought to be on this job instead of you and me and guns.’
“‘And how would you get holy water up the chimney?’ axes the sergeant.
“‘Wit a squirt,’ replies him, and how else?”
“‘Squirt yourself out of them boots,’ says the sergeant, ‘or it’s me ramrod I’ll take to you, and now follow me,’ he says, ‘and walk soft.’
“Wid the loaded guns in their hands up they whit makin’ no more sound than shaddas in a wall, and when they got to the room down they squats one on each side of the chimney.
“They hears nothin’ for a while, but the ticldn’ of the sergeant’s watch and the sounds of their own hearts goin’ lub-a-dub. Then comes a cough. It wasn’t a right sort of cough, for, let alone that it was comin’ down a chimney, it sounded to be the cough of a chap that had died for want of water and lain in a brick kiln afther.
“The constable said next day he’d have been up and off only the sound cut the legs from under him, the sergeant wasn’t much better and there they sat sayin’ their prayers and listenin’ for more.
“They waited near an hour hearin’ nothin’, and then all at once began a noise, a scratchin’ and a scrabblin’ like a cat comin’ down a drain pipe.
“‘It’s comin’ down,’ shouts the constable.
“‘Begob it’s not,’ says the sergeant and wid that he shoves the muzzle of his gun up the flue and fires.
“He fired from fright to keep it up, so he said at the inquest, but, lie jabers, he brought it down like a cock pheasant, tumblin’ and clawin’ and when they stretched it out on the flure it was a man right enough. A bit of an ould man as brown as a spider, and there he lay dead as a grouse wid the buckshot holes in him and not a drop of blood no more than if he’d been made of cardboard.
“‘Cover the face of him,’ says the constable, for that was the sort of face he had, better than I can tell you, and havin’ nothin’ to cover it they turned him face down, and made off runnin’ to Drumboyne for the residint magistrit.
“Well, sor, when they took that chimney down they found a room off it, all littered with bones and birds’ feathers and rats’ tails. It wouldn’t do to be tellin’ you of that room, more than it had no winda to it and had been built on purpose be Sir Michael Carey when he put the house up. He’d took to live in it, for that was the way his heart was, and at long last he took to live nowhere else, and that was how the sergeant brought him down and he must have been a matter of a hundred and tin years of age, they reckoned.
“He had his bagpipes to cheer him and frighten away tinints and he’d be out be nights scavengin’ for food — they say they found the bones of childer in the room, but may be that was a lie got be him tryin’ to drag Pat Leftwidge up the flue — but faith I wouldn’t put it beyond him. For that chap was a spider, sor, they said his face was the face of a spider, and his arms and legs no better.
“He’d begun in the shape of a man, maybe, but the spider in him got the bether of him. Look, there’s all there’s left of the house, sor, thin walls beyond the trees. They set a light to it to get shut of that room and if you knew the truth of it all you wouldn’ blame them.”
 
Mad Monkton
by Wilkie Collins
 
 
 
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
 
Chapter 1
 
 
 
The Monktons of Wincot Abbey bore a sad character for want of sociability in our county. They never went to other people’s houses, and, excepting my father, and a lady and her daughter living near them, never received anybody under their own roof.
Proud as they all certainly were, it was not pride, but dread, which kept them thus apart from their neighbors. The family had suffered for generations past from the horrible affliction of hereditary insanity, and the members of it shrank from exposing their calamity to others, as they must have exposed it if they had mingled with the busy little world around them. There is a frightful story of a crime committed in past times by two of the Monktons, near relatives, from which the first appearance of the insanity was always supposed to date, but it is needless for me to shock any one by repeating it. It is enough to say that at intervals almost every form of madness appeared in the family, monomania being the most frequent manifestation of the affliction among them. I have these particulars, and one or two yet to be related, from my father.
At the period of my youth but three of the Monktons were left at the Abbey — Mr. and Mrs. Monkton and their only child Alfred, heir to the property. The one other member of this, the elder branch of the family, who was then alive, was Mr. Monkton’s younger brother, Stephen. He was an unmarried man, possessing a fine estate in Scotland; but he lived almost entirely on the Continent, and bore the reputation of being a shameless profligate. The family at Wincot held almost as little communication with him as with their neighbors.
I have already mentioned my father, and a lady and her daughter, as the only privileged people who were admitted into Wincot Abbey.
My father had been an old school and college friend of Mr. Monkton, and accident had brought them so much together in later life that their continued intimacy at Wincot was quite intelligible. I am not so well able to account for the friendly terms on which Mrs. Elmslie (the lady to whom I have alluded) lived with the Monktons. Her late husband had been distantly related to Mrs. Monkton, and my father was her daughter’s guardian. But even these claims to friendship and regard never seemed to me strong enough to explain the intimacy between Mrs. Elmslie and the inhabitants of the Abbey. Intimate, however, they certainly were, and one result of the constant interchange of visits between the two families in due time declared itself: Mr. Monkton’s son and Mrs. Elmslie’s daughter became attached to each other.
I had no opportunities of seeing much of the young lady; I only remember her at that time as a delicate, gentle, lovable girl, the very opposite in appearance, and apparently in character also, to Alfred Monkton. But perhaps that was one reason why they fell in love with each other. The attachment was soon discovered, and was far from being disapproved by the parents on either side. In all essential points except that of wealth, the Elmslies were nearly the equals of the Monktons, and want of money in a bride was of no consequence to the heir of Wincot. Alfred, it was well known, would succeed to thirty thousand a year on his father’s death.
Thus, though the parents on both sides thought the young people not old enough to be married at once, they saw no reason why Ada and Alfred should not be engaged to each other, with the understanding that they should be united when young Monkton came of age, in two years’ time. The person to be consulted in the matter, after the parents, was my father, in his capacity of Ada’s guardian. He knew that the family misery had shown itself many years ago in Mrs. Monkton, who was her husband’s cousin. The illness, as it was significantly called, had been palliated by careful treatment, and was reported to have passed away. But my father was not to be deceived. He knew where the hereditary taint still lurked; he viewed with horror the bare possibility of its reappearing one day in the children of his friend’s only daughter; and he positively refused his consent to the marriage engagement.
The result was that the doors of the Abbey and the doors of Mrs. Elmslie’s house were closed to him. This suspension of friendly intercourse had lasted but a very short time when Mrs. Monkton died. Her husband, who was fondly attached to her, caught a violent cold while attending her funeral. The cold was neglected, and settled on his lungs. In a few months’ time he followed his wife to the grave, and Alfred was left master of the grand old Abbey and the fair lands that spread all around it.
At this period Mrs. Elmslie had the indelicacy to endeavor a second time to procure my father’s consent to the marriage engagement. He refused it again more positively than before. More than a year passed away. The time was approaching fast when Alfred would be of age. I returned from college to spend the long vacation at home, and made some advances toward bettering my acquaintance with young Monkton. They were evaded — certainly with perfect politeness, but still in such a way as to prevent me from offering my friendship to him again. Any mortification I might have felt at this petty repulse under ordinary circumstances was dismissed from my mind by the occurrence of a real misfortune in our household. For some months past my father’s health had been failing, and, just at the time of which I am now writing, his sons had to mourn the irreparable calamity of his death.
This event, through some informality or error in the late Mr. Elmslie’s will, left the future of Ada’s life entirely at her mother’s disposal. The consequence was the immediate ratification of the marriage engagement to which my father had so steadily refused his consent. As soon as the fact was publicly announced, some of Mrs. Elmslie’s more intimate friends, who were acquainted with the reports affecting the Monkton family, ventured to mingle with their formal congratulations one or two significant references to the late Mrs. Monkton and some searching inquiries as to the disposition of her son.
Mrs. Elmslie always met these polite hints with one bold form of answer. She first admitted the existence of these reports about the Monktons which her friends were unwilling to specify distinctly, and then declared that they were infamous calumnies. The hereditary taint had died out of the family generations back. Alfred was the best, the kindest, the sanest of human beings. He loved study and retirement; Ada sympathized with his tastes, and had made her choice unbiased; if any more hints were dropped about sacrificing her by her marriage, those hints would be viewed as so many insults to her mother, whose affection for her it was monstrous to call in question. This way of talking silenced people, but did not convince them. They began to suspect, what was indeed the actual truth, that Mrs. Elmslie was a selfish, worldly, grasping woman, who wanted to get her daughter well married, and cared nothing for consequences as long as she saw Ada mistress of the greatest establishment in the whole county.
It seemed, however, as if there was some fatality at work to prevent the attainment of Mrs. Elmslie’s great object in life. Hardly was one obstacle to the ill-omened marriage removed by my father’s death before another succeeded it in the shape of anxieties and difficulties caused by the delicate state of Ada’s health. Doctors were consulted in all directions, and the result of their advice was that the marriage must be deferred, and that Miss Elmslie must leave England for a certain time, to reside in a warmer climate — the south of France, if I remember rightly. Thus it happened that just before Alfred came of age Ada and her mother departed for the Continent, and the union of the two young people was understood to be indefinitely postponed. Some curiosity was felt in the neighborhood as to what Alfred Monkton would do under these circumstances. Would he follow his lady-love? would he go yachting? would he throw open the doors of the old Abbey at last, and endeavor to forget the absence of Ada and the postponement of his marriage in a round of gayeties? He did none of these things. He simply remained at Wincot, living as suspiciously strange and solitary a life as his father had lived before him. Literally, there was now no companion for him at the Abbey but the old priest — the Monktons, I should have mentioned before, were Roman Catholics — who had held the office of tutor to Alfred from his earliest years. He came of age, and there was not even so much as a private dinner-party at Wincot to celebrate the event. Families in the neighborhood determined to forget the offense which his father’s reserve had given them, and invited him to their houses. The invitations were politely declined. Civil visitors called resolutely at the Abbey, and were as resolutely bowed away from the doors as soon as they had left their cards. Under this combination of sinister and aggravating circumstances people in all directions took to shaking their heads mysteriously when the name of Mr. Alfred Monkton was mentioned, hinting at the family calamity, and wondering peevishly or sadly, as their tempers inclined them, what he could possibly do to occupy himself month after month in the lonely old house.
The right answer to this question was not easy to find. It was quite useless, for ex ample, to apply to the priest for it. He was a very quiet, polite old gentleman; his replies were always excessively ready and civil, and appeared at the time to convey an immense quantity of information; but when they came to be reflected on, it was universally observed that nothing tangible could ever be got out of them. The housekeeper, a weird old woman, with a very abrupt and repelling manner, was too fierce and taciturn to be safely approached. The few indoor servants had all been long enough in the family to have learned to hold their tongues in public as a regular habit. It was only from the farm-servants who supplied the table at the Abbey that any information could be obtained, and vague enough it was when they came to communicate it.
Some of them had observed the “young master” walking about the library with heaps of dusty papers in his hands. Others had heard odd noises in the uninhabited parts of the Abbey, had looked up, and had seen him forcing open the old windows, as if to let light and air into the rooms supposed to have been shut close for years and years, or had discovered him standing on the perilous summit of one of the crumbling turrets, never ascended before within their memories, and popularly considered to be inhabited by the ghosts of the monks who had once possessed the building. The result of these observations and discoveries, when they were communicated to others, was of course to impress every one with a firm belief that “poor young Monkton was going the way that the rest of the family had gone before him,” which opinion always appeared to be immensely strengthened in the popular mind by a conviction — founded on no particle of evidence — that the priest was at the bottom of all the mischief.
Thus far I have spoken from hearsay evidence mostly. What I have next to tell will be the result of my own personal experience.
 
Chapter 2
 
 
 
About five months after Alfred Monkton came of age I left college, and resolved to amuse and instruct myself a little by traveling abroad.
At the time when I quitted England young Monkton was still leading his secluded life at the Abbey, and was, in the opinion of everybody, sinking rapidly, if he had not already succumbed, under the hereditary curse of his family. As to the Elmslies, report said that Ada had benefited by her sojourn abroad, and that mother and daughter were on their way back to England to resume their old relations with the heir of Wincot. Before they returned I was away on my travels, and wandered half over Europe, hardly ever planning whither I should shape my course beforehand. Chance, which thus led me everywhere, led me at last to Naples. There I met with an old school friend, who was one of the attaches at the English embassy, and there began the extraordinary events in connection with Alfred Monkton which form the main interest of the story I am now relating.
I was idling away the time one morning with my friend the attache in the garden of the Villa Reale, when we were passed by a young man, walking alone, who exchanged bows with my friend.
I thought I recognized the dark, eager eyes, the colorless cheeks, the strangely-vigilant, anxious expression which I remembered in past times as characteristic of Alfred Monkton’s face, and was about to question my friend on the subject, when he gave me unasked the information of which I was in search.
“That is Alfred Monkton,” said he; “he comes from your part of England. You ought to know him.”
“I do know a little of him,” I answered; “he was engaged to Miss Elmslie when I was last in the neighborhood of Wincot. Is he married to her yet?”
“No, and he never ought to be. He has gone the way of the rest of the family — or, in plainer words, he has gone mad.”
“Mad! But I ought not to be surprised at hearing that, after the reports about him in England.”
“I speak from no reports; I speak from what he has said and done before me, and before hundreds of other people. Surely you must have heard of it?”
“Never. I have been out of the way of news from Naples or England for months past.”
“Then I have a very extraordinary story to tell you. You know, of course, that Alfred had an uncle, Stephen Monkton. Well, some time ago this uncle fought a duel in the Roman States with a Frenchman, who shot him dead. The seconds and the Frenchman (who was unhurt) took to flight in different directions, as it is supposed. We heard nothing here of the details of the duel till a month after it happened, when one of the French journals published an account of it, taken from the papers left by Monkton’s second, who died at Paris of consumption. These papers stated the manner in which the duel was fought, and how it terminated, but nothing more. The surviving second and the Frenchman have never been traced from that time to this. All that anybody knows, therefore, of the duel is that Stephen Monkton was shot; an event which nobody can regret, for a greater scoundrel never existed. The exact place where he died, and what was done with the body are still mysteries not to be penetrated.”
“But what has all this to do with Alfred?”
“Wait a moment, and you will hear. Soon after the news of his uncle’s death reached England, what do you think Alfred did? He actually put off his marriage with Miss Elmslie, which was then about to be celebrated, to come out here in search of the burial-place of his wretched scamp of an uncle; and no power on earth will now induce him to return to England and to Miss Elmslie until he has found the body, and can take it back with him, to be buried with all the other dead Monktons in the vault under Wincot Abbey Chapel. He has squandered his money, pestered the police, and exposed himself to the ridicule of the men and the indignation of the women for the last three months in trying to achieve his insane purpose, and is now as far from it as ever. He will not assign to anybody the smallest motive for his conduct. You can’t laugh him out of it or reason him out of it. When we met him just now, I happen to know that he was on his way to the office of the police minister, to send out fresh agents to search and inquire through the Roman States for the place where his uncle was shot. And, mind, all this time he professes to be passionately in love with Miss Elmslie, and to be miserable at his separation from her. Just think of that! And then think of his self-imposed absence from her here, to hunt after the remains of a wretch who was a disgrace to the family, and whom he never saw but once or twice in his life. Of all the ‘Mad Monktons,’ as they used to call them in England, Alfred is the maddest. He is actually our principal excitement in this dull opera season; though, for my own part, when I think of the poor girl in England, I am a great deal more ready to despise him than to laugh at him.”
“You know the Elmslies then?”
“Intimately. The other day my mother wrote to me from England, after having seen Ada. This escapade of Monkton’s has outraged all her friends. They have been entreating her to break off the match, which it seems she could do if she liked. Even her mother, sordid and selfish as she is, has been obliged at last, in common decency, to side with the rest of the family; but the good, faithful girl won’t give Monkton up. She humors his insanity; declares he gave her a good reason in secret for going away; says she could always make him happy when they were together in the old Abbey, and can make him still happier when they are married; in short, she loves him dearly, and will therefore believe in him to the last. Nothing shakes her. She has made up her mind to throw away her life on him, and she will do it.”
“I hope not. Mad as his conduct looks to us, he may have some sensible reason for it that we cannot imagine. Does his mind seem at all disordered when he talks on ordinary topics?”
“Not in the least. When you can get him to say anything, which is not often, he talks like a sensible, well-educated man. Keep silence about his precious errand here, and you would fancy him the gentlest and most temperate of human beings; but touch the subject of his vagabond of an uncle, and the Monkton madness comes out directly. The other night a lady asked him, jestingly of course, whether he had ever seen his uncle’s ghost. He scowled at her like a perfect fiend, and said that he and his uncle would answer her question together some day, if they came from hell to do it. We laughed at his words, but the lady fainted at his looks, and we had a scene of hysterics and hartshorn in consequence. Any other man would have been kicked out of the room for nearly frightening a pretty woman to death in that way; but ‘Mad Monkton,’ as we have christened him, is a privileged lunatic in Neapolitan society, because he is English, good-looking, and worth thirty thousand a year. He goes out everywhere under the impression that he may meet with somebody who has been let into the secret of the place where the mysterious duel was fought. If you are introduced to him he is sure to ask you whether you know anything about it; but beware of following up the subject after you have answered him, unless you want to make sure that he is out of his senses. In that case, only talk of his uncle, and the result will rather more than satisfy you.”
A day or two after this conversation with my friend the attache, I met Monkton at an evening party.
The moment he heard my name mentioned, his face flushed up; he drew me away into a corner, and referring to his cool reception of my advance years ago toward making his acquaintance, asked my pardon for what he termed his inexcusable ingratitude with an earnestness and an agitation which utterly astonished me. His next proceeding was to question me, as my friend had said he would, about the place of the mysterious duel.
An extraordinary change came over him while he interrogated me on this point. Instead of looking into my face as they had looked hitherto, his eyes wandered away, and fixed themselves intensely, almost fiercely, either on the perfectly empty wall at our side, or on the vacant space between the wall and ourselves, it was impossible to say which. I had come to Naples from Spain by sea, and briefly told him so, as the best way of satisfying him that I could not assist his inquiries. He pursued them no further; and, mindful of my friend’s warning, I took care to lead the conversation to general topics. He looked back at me directly, and, as long as we stood in our corner, his eyes never wandered away again to the empty wall or the vacant space at our side.
Though more ready to listen than to speak, his conversation, when he did talk, had no trace of anything the least like insanity about it. He had evidently read, not generally only, but deeply as well, and could apply his reading with singular felicity to the illustration of almost any subject under discussion, neither obtruding his knowledge absurdly, nor concealing it affectedly. His manner was in itself a standing protest against such a nickname as “Mad Monkton.” He was so shy, so quiet, so composed and gentle in all his actions, that at times I should have been almost inclined to call him effeminate. We had a long talk together on the first evening of our meeting; we often saw each other afterward, and never lost a single opportunity of bettering our acquaintance. I felt that he had taken a liking to me, and, in spite of what I had heard about his behavior to Miss Elmslie, in spite of the suspicions which the history of his family and his own conduct had arrayed against him, I began to like “Mad Monkton” as much as he liked me. We took many a quiet ride together in the country, and sailed often along the shores of the Bay on either side. But for two eccentricities in his conduct, which I could not at all understand, I should soon have felt as much at my ease in his society as if he had been my own brother.
The first of these eccentricities consisted in the reappearance on several occasions of the odd expression in his eyes which I had first seen when he asked me whether I knew anything about the duel. No matter what we were talking about, or where we happened to be, there were times when he would suddenly look away from my face, now on one side of me, now on the other, but always where there was nothing to see, and always with the same intensity and fierceness in his eyes. This looked so like madness — or hypochondria at the least — that I felt afraid to ask him about it, and always pretended not to observe him.
The second peculiarity in his conduct was that he never referred, while in my company, to the reports about his errand at Naples, and never once spoke of Miss Elmslie, or of his life at Wincot Abbey. This not only astonished me, but amazed those who had noticed our intimacy, and who had made sure that I must be the depositary of all his secrets. But the time was near at hand when this mystery, and some other mysteries of which I had no suspicion at that period, were all to be revealed.
I met him one night at a large ball, given by a Russian nobleman, whose name I could not pronounce then, and cannot remember now. I had wandered away from reception-room, ballroom, and cardroom, to a small apartment at one extremity of the palace, which was half conservatory, half boudoir, and which had been prettily illuminated for the occasion with Chinese lanterns. Nobody was in the room when I got there. The view over the Mediterranean, bathed in the bright softness of Italian moonlight, was so lovely that I remained for a long time at the window, looking out, and listening to the dance-music which faintly reached me from the ballroom. My thoughts were far away with the relations I had left in England, when I was startled out of them by hearing my name softly pronounced.
I looked round directly, and saw Monkton standing in the room. A livid paleness overspread his face, and his eyes were turned away from me with the same extraordinary expression in them to which I have already alluded.
“Do you mind leaving the ball early to-night?” he asked, still not looking at me.
“Not at all,” said I. “Can I do anything for you? Are you ill?”
“No — at least nothing to speak of. Will you come to my rooms?”
“At once, if you like.”
“No, not at once. I must go home directly; but don’t you come to me for half an hour yet. You have not been at my rooms before, I know, but you will easily find them out; they are close by. There is a card with my address. I must speak to you to-night; my life depends on it. Pray come! for God’s sake, come when the half hour is up!”
I promised to be punctual, and he left me directly.
Most people will be easily able to imagine the state of nervous impatience and vague expectation in which I passed the allotted period of delay, after hearing such words as those Monkton had spoken to me. Before the half hour had quite expired I began to make my way out through the ballroom.
At the head of the staircase my friend, the attache, met me.
“What! going away already?” Said he.
“Yes; and on a very curious expedition. I am going to Monkton’s rooms, by his own invitation.”
“You don’t mean it! Upon my honor, you’re a bold fellow to trust yourself alone with ‘Mad Monkton’ when the moon is at the full.”
“He is ill, poor fellow. Besides, I don’t think him half as mad as you do.”
“We won’t dispute about that; but mark my words, he has not asked you to go where no visitor has ever been admitted before without a special purpose. I predict that you will see or hear something to-night which you will remember for the rest of your life.”
We parted. When I knocked at the courtyard gate of the house where Monkton lived, my friend’s last words on the palace staircase recurred to me, and, though I had laughed at him when he spoke them, I began to suspect even then that his prediction would be fulfilled.
 
Chapter 3
 
 
 
The porter who let me into the house where Monkton lived directed me to the floor on which his rooms were situated. On getting upstairs, I found his door on the landing ajar. He heard my footsteps, I suppose, for he called to me to come in before I could knock.
I entered, and found him sitting by the table, with some loose letters in his hand, which he was just tying together into a packet. I noticed, as he asked me to sit down, that his express ion looked more composed, though the paleness had not yet left his face. He thanked me for coming; repeated that he had something very important to say to me; and then stopped short, apparently too much embarrassed to proceed. I tried to set him at his ease by assuring him that, if my assistance or advice could be of any use, I was ready to place myself and my time heartily and unreservedly at his service.
As I said this I saw his eyes beginning to wander away from my face — to wander slowly, inch by inch, as it were, until they stopped at a certain point, with the same fixed stare into vacancy which had so often startled me on former occasions. The whole expression of his face altered as I had never yet seen it alter; he sat before me looking like a man in a death-trance.
“You are very kind,” he said, slowly and faintly, speaking, not to me, but in the direction in which his eyes were still fixed. “I know you can help me; but —”
He stopped; his face whitened horribly, and the perspiration broke out all over it. He tried to continue — said a word or two — then stopped again. Seriously alarmed about him, I rose from my chair with the intention of getting him some water from a jug which I saw standing on a side-table.
He sprang up at the same moment. All the suspicions I had ever heard whispered against his sanity flashed over my mind in an instant, and I involuntarily stepped back a pace or two.
“Stop,” he said, seating himself again; “don’t mind me; and don’t leave your chair. I want — I wish, if you please, to make a little alteration, before we say anything more. Do you mind sitting in a strong light?”
“Not in the least.”
I had hitherto been seated in the shade of his reading-lamp, the only light in the room.
As I answered him he rose again, and, going into another apartment, returned with a large lamp in his hand; then took two candles from the side-table, and two others from the chimney piece; placed them all, to my amazement, together, so as to stand exactly between us, and then tried to light them. His hand trembled so that he was obliged to give up the attempt, and allow me to come to his assistance. By his direction, I took the shade off the reading-lamp after I had lit the other lamp and the four candles. When we sat down again, with this concentration of light between us, his better and gentler manner began to return, and while he now addressed me he spoke without the slightest hesitation.
“It is useless to ask whether you have heard the reports about me,” he said; “I know that you have. My purpose to-night is to give you some reasonable explanation of the conduct which has produced those reports. My secret has been hitherto confided to one person only; I am now about to trust it to your keeping, with a special object which will appear as I go on. First, however, I must begin by telling you exactly what the great difficulty is which obliges me to be still absent from England. I want your advice and your help; and, to conceal nothing from you, I want also to test your forbearance and your friendly sympathy, before I can venture on thrusting my miserable secret into your keeping. Will you pardon this apparent distrust of your frank and open character — this apparent ingratitude for your kindness toward me ever since we first met?”
I begged him not to speak of these things, but to go on.
“You know,” he proceeded, “that I am here to recover the body of my Uncle Stephen, and to carry it back with me to our family burial-place in England, and you must also be aware that I have not yet succeeded in discovering his remains. Try to pass over, for the present, whatever may seem extraordinary and incomprehensible in such a purpose as mine is, and read this newspaper article where the ink-line is traced. It is the only evidence hitherto obtained on the subject of the fatal duel in which my uncle fell, and I want to hear what course of proceeding the perusal of it may suggest to you as likely to be best on my part.”
He handed me an old French newspaper. The substance of what I read there is still so firmly impressed on my memory that I am certain of being able to repeat correctly at this distance of time all the facts which it is necessary for me to communicate to the reader.
The article began, I remember, with editorial remarks on the great curiosity then felt in regard to the fatal duel between the Count St. Lo and Mr. Stephen Monkton, an English gentleman. The writer proceeded to dwell at great length on the extraordinary secrecy in which the whole affair had been involved from first to last, and to express a hope that the publication of a certain manuscript, to which his introductory observations referred, might lead to the production of fresh evidence from other and better-informed quarters. The manuscript had been found among the papers of Monsieur Foulon, Mr. Monkton’s second, who had died at Paris of a rapid decline shortly after returning to his home in that city from the scene of the duel. The document was unfinished, having been left incomplete at the very place where the reader would most wish to find it continued. No reason could be discovered for this, and no second manuscript bearing on the all-important subject had been found, after the strictest search among the papers left by the deceased.
The document itself then followed.
It purported to be an agreement privately drawn up between Mr. Monkton’s second, Monsieur Foulon, and the Count St. Lo’s second, Monsieur Dalville, and contained a statement of all the arrangements for conducting the duel. The paper was dated “Naples, February 22d,” and was divided into some seven or eight clauses. The first clause described the origin and nature of the quarrel — a very disgraceful affair on both sides, worth neither remembering nor repeating. The second clause stated that, the challenged man having chosen the pistol as his weapon, and the challenger (an excellent swordsman), having, on his side, thereupon insisted that the duel should be fought in such a manner as to make the first fire decisive in its results, the seconds, seeing that fatal consequences must inevitably follow the hostile meeting, determined, first of all, that the duel should be kept a profound secret from everybody, and that the place where it was to be fought should not be made known beforehand, even to the principals themselves. It was added that this excess of precaution had been rendered absolutely necessary in consequence of a recent address from the Pope to the ruling powers in Italy commenting on the scandalous frequency of the practice of dueling, and urgently desiring that the laws against duelists should be enforced for the future with the utmost rigor.
The third clause detailed the manner in which it had been arranged that the duel should be fought.
The pistols having been loaded by the seconds on the ground, the combatants were to be placed thirty paces apart, and were to toss up for the first fire. The man who won was to advance ten paces marked out for him beforehand — and was then to discharge his pistol. If he missed, or failed to disable his opponent, the latter was free to advance, if he chose, the whole remaining twenty paces before he fired in his turn. This arrangement insured the decisive termination of the duel at the first discharge of the pistols, and both principals and seconds pledged themselves on either side to abide by it.
The fourth clause stated that the seconds had agreed that the duel should be fought out of the Neapolitan States, but left themselves to be guided by circumstances as to the exact locality in which it should take place. The remaining clauses, so far as I remember them, were devoted to detailing the different precautions to be adopted for avoiding discovery. The duelists and their seconds were to leave Naples in separate parties; were to change carriages several times; were to meet at a certain town, or, failing that, at a certain post-house on the high road from Naples to Rome; were to carry drawing-books, color boxes, and camp-stools, as if they had been artists out on a sketching-tour; and were to proceed to the place of the duel on foot, employing no gui des, for fear of treachery. Such general arrangements as these, and others for facilitating the flight of the survivors after the affair was over, formed the conclusion of this extraordinary document, which was signed, in initials only, by both the seconds.
Just below the initials appeared the beginning of a narrative, dated “Paris,” and evidently intended to describe the duel itself with extreme minuteness. The hand-writing was that of the deceased second.
Monsieur Foulon, tire gentleman in question, stated his belief that circumstances might transpire which would render an account by an eyewitness of the hostile meeting between St. Lo and Mr. Monkton an important document. He proposed, therefore, as one of the seconds, to testify that the duel had been fought in exact accordance with the terms of the agreement, both the principals conducting themselves like men of gallantry and honor (!). And he further announced that, in order not to compromise any one, he should place the paper containing his testimony in safe hands, with strict directions that it was on no account to be opened except in a case of the last emergency.
After thus preamble, Monsieur Foulon related that the duel had been fought two days after the drawing up of the agreement, in a locality to which accident had conducted the dueling party. (The name of the place was not mentioned, nor even the neighborhood in which it was situated.) The men having been placed according to previous arrangement, the Count St. Lo had won the toss for the first fire, had advanced his ten paces, and had shot his opponent in the body. Mr. Monkton did not immediately fall, but staggered forward some six or seven paces, discharged his pistol ineffectually at the count, and dropped to the ground a dead man. Monsieur Foulon then stated that he tore a leaf from his pocketbook, wrote on it a brief description of the manner in which Mr. Monkton had died, and pinned the paper to his clothes; this proceeding having been rendered necessary by the peculiar nature of the plan organized on the spot for safely disposing of the dead body. What this plan was, or what was done with the corpse, did not appear, for at this important point the narrative abruptly broke off.
A foot-note in the newspaper merely stated the manner in which the document had been obtained for publication, and repeated the announcement contained in the editor’s introductory remarks, that no continuation had been found by the persons intrusted with the care of Monsieur Foulon’s papers. I have now given the whole substance of what I read, and have mentioned all that was then known of Mr. Stephen Monkton’s death.
When I gave the newspaper back to Alfred he was too much agitated to speak, but he reminded me by a sign that he was anxiously waiting to hear what I had to say. My position was a very trying and a very painful one. I could hardly tell what consequences might not follow any want of caution on my part, and could think at first of no safer plan than questioning him carefully before I committed myself either one way or the other.
“Will you excuse me if I ask you a question or two before I give you my advice?” said I.
He nodded impatiently.
“Yes, yes — any questions you like.”
“Were you at any time in the habit of seeing your uncle frequently?”
“I never saw him more than twice in my life — on each occasion when I was a mere child.”
“Then you could have had no very strong personal regard for him?”
“Regard for him! I should have been ashamed to feel any regard for him. He disgraced us wherever he went.”
“May I ask if any family motive is involved in your anxiety to recover his remains?”
“Family motives may enter into it among others — but why do you ask?”
“Because, having heard that you employ the police to assist your search, I was anxious to know whether you had stimulated their superiors to make them do their best in your service by giving some strong personal reasons at headquarters for the very unusual project which has brought you here.”
“I give no reasons. I pay for the work I want done, and, in return for my liberality, I am treated with the most infamous indifference on all sides. A stranger in the country, and badly acquainted with the language, I can do nothing to help myself. The authorities, both at Rome and in this place, pretend to assist me, pretend to search and inquire as I would have them search and inquire, and do nothing more. I am insulted, laughed at, almost to my face.”
“Do you not think it possible — mind, I have no wish to excuse the misconduct of the authorities, and do not share in any such opinion myself — but do you not think it likely that the police may doubt whether you are in earnest?”
“Not in earnest!” he cried, starting up and confronting me fiercely, with wild eyes and quickened breath. “Not in earnest! You think I’m not in earnest too. I know you think it, though you tell me you don’t. Stop; before we say another word, your own eyes shall convince you. Come here — only for a minute — only for one minute!”
I followed him into his bedroom, which opened out of the sitting-room. At one side of his bed stood a large packing-case of plain wood, upward of seven feet in length.
“Open the lid and look in,” he said, “while I hold the candle so that you can see.”
I obeyed his directions, and discovered to my astonishment that the packing-case contained a leaden coffin, magnificently emblazoned with the arms of the Monkton family, and inscribed in old-fashioned letters with the name of “Stephen Monkton,” his age and the manner of his death being added underneath.
“I keep his coffin ready for him,” whispered Alfred, close at my ear. “Does that look like earnest?”
It looked more like insanity — so like that I shrank from answering him.
“Yes! yes! I see you are convinced,” he continued quickly; “we may go back into the next room, and may talk without restraint on either side now.”
On returning to our places, I mechanically moved my chair away from the table. My mind was by this time in such a state of confusion and uncertainty about what it would be best for me to say or do next, that I forgot for the moment the position he had assigned to me when we lit the candles. He reminded me of this directly.
“Don’t move away,” he said, very earnestly; “keep on sitting in the light; pray do! I’ll soon tell you why I am so particular about that. But first give me your advice; help me in my great distress and suspense. Remember, you promised me you would.”
I made an effort to collect my thoughts, and succeeded. It was useless to treat the affair otherwise than seriously in his presence; it would have been cruel not to have advised him as I best could.
“You know,” I said, “that two days after the drawing up of the agreement at Naples, the duel was fought out of the Neapolitan States. This fact has of course led you to the conclusion that all inquiries about localities had better be confined to the Roman territory?”
“Certainly; the search, such as it is, has been made there, and there only. If I can believe the police, they and their agents have inquired for the place where the duel was fought (offering a large reward in my name to the person who can discover it) all along the high road from Naples to Rome. They have also circulated — at least so they tell me — descriptions of the duelists and their seconds; have left an agent to superintend investigations at the post-house, and another at the town mentioned as meeting-points in the agreement; and have endeavored, by correspondence with foreign authorities, to trace the Count St. Lo and Monsieur Dalville to their place or places of refuge. All these efforts, supposing them to have been really made, have hitherto proved utterly fruitless.”
“My impression is,” said I, after a moment’s consideration, “that all inquiries made along the high road, or anywhere near Rome, are likely to be made in vain. As to the discovery of your uncle’s remains, that is, I think, identical with the discovery of the place where he was shot; for those engaged in the duel would certainly not risk detection by carrying a corpse any distance with them in their flight. The place, then, is all that we want to find out. Now let us consider for a moment. The dueling-party changed carriages; traveled separately, two and two; doubtless took roundabout roads; stopped at the post-house and the town as a blind; walked, perhaps, a considerable distance unguided. Depend upon it, such precautions as these (which we know they must have employed) left them very little time out of the two days — though they might start at sunrise and not stop at night-fall — for straightforward traveling. My belief therefore is, that the duel was fought somewhere near the Neapolitan frontier; and, if I had been the police agent who conducted the search, I should only have pursued it parallel with the frontier, starting from west to east till I got up among the lonely places in the mountains. That is my idea; do you think it worth anything?”
His face flushed all over in an instant. “I think it an inspiration!” he cried. “Not a day is to be lost in carrying out our plan. The police are not to be trusted with it. I must start myself to-morrow morning; and you —”
He stopped; his face grew suddenly pale; he sighed heavily; his eyes wandered once more into the fixed look at vacancy; and the rigid, deathly expression fastened again upon all his features.
“I must tell you my secret before I talk of to-morrow,” he proceeded, faintly. “If I hesitated any longer at confessing everything, I should be unworthy of your past kindness, unworthy of the help which it is my last hope that you will gladly give me when you have heard all.”
I begged him to wait until he was more composed, until he was better able to speak; but he did not appear to notice what I said. Slowly, and struggling as it seemed against himself, he turned a little away from me, and, bending his head over the table, supported it on his hand. The packet of letters with which I had seen him occupied when I came in lay just beneath his eyes. He looked down on it steadfastly when he next spoke to me.
 
Chapter 4
 
 
 
“You were born, I believe, in our county,” he said; “perhaps, therefore, you may have heard at some time of a curious old prophecy about our family, which is still preserved among the traditions of Wincot Abbey?”
“I have heard of such a prophecy,” I answered, “but I never knew in what terms it was expressed. It professed to predict the extinction of your family, or something of that sort, did it not?”
“No inquiries,” he went on, “have traced back that prophecy to the time when it was first made; none of our family records tell us anything of its origin. Old servants and old tenants of ours remember to have heard it from their fathers and grandfathers. The monks, whom we succeeded in the Abbey in Henry the Eighth’s time, got knowledge of it in some way, for I myself discovered the rhymes, in which we know the prophecy to have been preserved from a very remote period, written on a blank leaf of one of the Abbey manuscripts. These are the verses, if verses they deserve to be called:
 
When in Wincot vault a place
Waits for one of Monkton’s race —
When that one forlorn shall lie
Graveless under open sky,
Beggared of six feet of earth,
Though lord of acres from his birth —
That shall be a certain sign
Of the end of Monkton’s line.
Dwindling ever faster, faster,
Dwindling to the last-left master;
From mortal ken, from light of day,
Monkton’s race shall pass away. ”
 
“The prediction seems almost vague enough to have been uttered by an ancient oracle,” said I, observing that he waited, after repeating the verses, as if expecting me to say something.
“Vague or not, it is being accomplished,” he returned. “I am now the ‘last-left master’— the last of that elder line of our family at which the prediction points; and the corpse of Stephen Monkton is not in the vaults of Wincot Abbey. Wait before you exclaim against me. I have more to say about this. Long before the Abbey was ours, when we lived in the ancient manor-house near it (the very ruins of which have long since disappeared), the family burying-place was in the vault under the Abbey chapel. Whether in those remote times the prediction against us was known and dreaded or not, this much is certain: every one of the Monktons (whether living at the Abbey or on the smaller estate in Scotland) was buried in Wincot vault, no matter at what risk or what sacrifice. In the fierce fighting days of the olden time, the bodies of my ancestors who fell in foreign places were recovered and brought back to Wincot, though it often cost not heavy ransom only, but desperate bloodshed as well, to obtain them. This superstition, if you please to call it so, has never died out of the family from that time to the present day; for centuries the succession of the dead in the vault at the Abbey has been unbroken — absolutely unbroken — until now. The place mentioned in the prediction as waiting to be filled is Stephen Monkton’s place; the voice that cries vainly to the earth for shelter is the spirit-voice of the dead. As surely as if I saw it, I know that they have left him unburied on the ground where he fell!”
He stopped me before I could utter a word in remonstrance by slowly rising to his feet, and pointing in the same direction toward which his eyes had wandered a short time since.
“I can guess what you want to ask me,” he exclaimed, sternly and loudly; “you want to ask me how I can be mad enough to believe in a doggerel prophecy uttered in an age of superstition to awe the most ignorant hearers. I answer” (at those words his voice sank suddenly to a whisper), “I answer, because Stephen Monkton himself stands there at this moment confirming me in my belief .”
Whether it was the awe and horror that looked out ghastly from his face as he confronted me, whether it was that I had never hitherto fairly believed in the reports about his madness, and that the conviction of their truth now forced itself upon me on a sudden, I know not, but I felt my blood curdling as he spoke, and I knew in my own heart, as I sat there speechless, that I dare not turn round and look where he was still pointing close at my side.
“I see there,” he went on, in the same whispering voice, “the figure of a dark-complexioned man standing up with his head uncovered. One of his hands, still clutching a pistol, has fallen to his side; the other presses a bloody handkerchief over his mouth. The spasm of mortal agony convulses his features; but I know them for the features of a swarthy man who twice frightened me by taking me up in his arms when I was a child at Wincot Abbey. I asked the nurses at the time who that man was, and they told me it was my uncle, Stephen Monkton. Plainly, as if he stood there living, I see him now at your side, with the death-glare in his great black eyes; and so have I ever seen him, since the moment when he was shot; at home and abroad, waking or sleeping, day and night, we are always together, wherever I go!”
His whispering tones sank into almost inaudible murmuring as he pronounced these last words. From the direction and expression of his eyes, I suspected that he was speaking to the apparition. If I had beheld it myself at that moment, it would have been, I think, a less horrible sight to witness than to see him, as I saw him now, muttering inarticulately at vacancy. My own nerves were more shaken than I could have thought possible by what had passed. A vague dread of being near him in his present mood came over me, and I moved back a step or two.
He noticed the action instantly.
“Don’t go! pray — pray don’t go! Have I alarmed you? Don’t you believe me? Do the lights make your eyes ache? I only asked you to sit in the glare of the candles because I could not bear to see the light that always shines from the phantom there at dusk shining over you as you sat in the shadow. Don’t go — don’t leave me yet!”
There was an utter forlornness, an unspeakable misery in his face as he spoke these words, which gave me back my self-possession by the simple process of first moving me to pity. I resumed my chair, and said that I would stay with him as long as he wished.
“Thank you a thousand times. You are patience and kindness itself,” he said, going back to his former place and resuming his former gentleness of manner. “Now that I have got over my first confession of the misery that follows me in secret wherever I go, I think I can tell you calmly all that remains to be told. You see, as I said, my Uncle Stephen” he turned away his head quickly, and looked down at the table as the name passed his lips —“my Uncle Stephen came twice to Wincot while I was a child, and on both occasions frightened me dreadfully. He only took me up in his arms and spoke to me — very kindly, as I afterward heard, for him — but he terrified me, nevertheless. Perhaps I was frightened at his great stature, his swarthy complexion, and his thick black hair and mustache, as other children might have been; perhaps the mere sight of him had some strange influence on me which I could not then understand and cannot now explain. However it was, I used to dream of him long after he had gone away, and to fancy that he was stealing on me to catch me up in his arms whenever I was left in the dark. The servants who took care of me found this out, and used to threaten me with my Uncle Stephen whenever I was perverse and difficult to manage. As I grew up, I still retained my vague dread and abhorrence of our absent relative. I always listened intently, yet without knowing why, whenever his name was mentioned by my father or my mother — listened with an unaccountable presentiment that something terrible had happened to him, or was about to happen to me. This feeling only changed when I was left alone in the Abbey; and then it seemed to merge into the eager curiosity which had begun to grow on me, rather before that time, about the origin of the ancient prophecy predicting the extinction of our race. Are you following me?”
“I follow every word with the closest attention.”
“You must know, then, that I had first found out some fragments of the old rhyme in which the prophecy occurs quoted as a curiosity in an antiquarian book in the library. On the page opposite this quotation had been pasted a rude old wood-cut, representing a dark-haired man, whose face was so strangely like what I remembered of my Uncle Stephen that the portrait absolutely startled me. When I asked my father about this — it was then just before his death — he either knew, or pretended to know, nothing of it; and when I afterward mentioned the prediction he fretfully changed the subject. It was just the same with our chaplain when I spoke to him. He said the portrait had been done centuries before my uncle was born, and called the prophecy doggerel and nonsense. I used to argue with him on the latter point, asking why we Catholics, who believed that the gift of working miracles had never departed from certain favored persons, might not just as well believe that the gift of prophecy had never departed, either?

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